Above all else, Judge Ishii's carefully reasoned opinion in Central Valley Chrylser-Jeep v. Goldstone shows how the Supreme Court has dramatically changed the debate over greenhouse gas regulation in this country, and made protection of public health a greater priority than the convenience of the auto industry. Put as bluntly as possible, Mass v. EPA made Judge Ishii change his mind about the strength of California's case.
In a prior order in the case, from September 2006, Judge Ishii seemed quite skeptical of California's claims. He wrote, "[b]ecause nothing before the court evinces Congress' intent to permit California regulations that stand as an obstacle to the EPCA's objectives, Plaintiffs [i.e. the auto industry] have stated a claim for EPCA preemption and the court will not grant judgment on the pleadings on this cause of action." Legal terminology aside, Ishii was essentially saying that the state's case against preemption didn't look good.
But then came Mass v. EPA, specifically this statement: "That DOT sets mileage standards in no way licenses EPA to shirk its environmental responsibilities. EPA has been charged with protecting the public's 'health' and 'welfare' ... a statutory obligation wholly independent of DOT's mandate to promote energy efficiency.... The two obligations may overlap, but there is no reason to think the two agencies cannot both administer their obligations and yet avoid inconsistency."
That caused Ishii to rethink his prior approach (something observers picked up on at oral argument). This kind of thorough-going rethinking is, to put it mildly, rare. And the turning point in Ishii's opinion is clear (more on that after the jump).
The heart of the opinion is an analysis of three questions: 1)Can EPA "promulgate emission control regulations that have an effect on fuel economy?" 2) If yes, does the federal fuel economy statute (EPCA) prevent EPA from issuing regulations that are stricter than federal fuel economy rules set by another agency? 3) Is there any reason for a court to treat a state emissions regulation for which EPA has granted a waiver any differently than a regulation that EPA has promulgated on its own?
The opinion then carefully demonstrates that Mass v. EPA answers the first two questions with a resounding yes. And this pair of answers leads to a very important "no" answer to the third question--which is the key question in this case, and one that Ishii had previously answered differently.
The court's September order explicitly rejected Defendants' [California's] contention that the state regulations that are granted a waiver by EPA ... have any special status that would immunize the regulations from preemption by other federal law. Because the court did not have the benefit of the Supreme Court's opinion in Massachusetts, the court's analysis failed to begin by addressing EPA's authority to promulgate regulations that may conflict with EPCA's goals. Consequently, the court's analysis in the September 25 Order glosses over what now appears to be the important question of whether and how a state regulation granted a waiver by EPA under section 209(b) is different from the same regulation if it had been originated and promulgated by EPA.
The Supreme Court's opinion in Massachusetts is critical to the analysis because... it informs this court's opinion of EPA's congressionally-mandated authority and duty to independently regulate air pollution for the purpose of preservation of public health and welfare....
The court concludes that, just as the Massachusetts Court held EPA's duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act overlaps but does not conflict with DOT's duty to set fuel efficiency standards under EPCA, so too California's effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions throug the waiver of preemption provisions of the Clean Air Act overlaps, but does not conflict with, DOT's activities under EPCA.
The opinion elsewhere explains how, in light of Mass v. EPA, the September 25 Order "erroneously" analyzed the conflict preemption claim in the case.
Skeptics and naysayers, focusing only on the last page of the Mass v. EPA decision and neglecting the analysis, said it had more symbolic than substantive importance because it didn't order the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from cars. Ishii's opinion reinforces a key point about Supreme Court opinions: The reasoning matters as much as the outcome.
Congratulations are due to the lawyers for the state of California, who persevered in the case and pressed Ishii to reconsider in light of Mass v. EPA, and kudos to Judge Ishii for really searching for the right answer.