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States ask court for reconsideration
of gas-mileage standards

By Julia Cheever

May 15, 2007

Lawyers for California, 10 other states and four environmental groups asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco yesterday to order the Bush administration to reconsider gas mileage standards for light trucks by taking account of global warming.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown charged outside the hearing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that standards set by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in March were "dangerously misguided."

The standards would increase fuel economy requirements for SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks from the current 22.2 miles per gallon of gasoline to 23.5 miles by 2010.

Brown said, "After years of neglect, it is unconscionable to increase vehicle mileage standards by only one mile per gallon.

"What they're doing is trivial at best and dangerous at worst," he charged.

The attorney general said the standards affect not only the environment but also national security by failing to reduce reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

The states and environmental groups claim the highway agency's decision process was flawed because it didn't consider the impact of greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles on global warming.

They want the appeals court to order a full environmental impact statement on the planned standards.

Deputy California Attorney General Susan Fiering told a three-judge panel, "This is a major source of greenhouse gases. Fuel economy will have a direct effect on greenhouse gases from trucks."

Sean Donahue, representing the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, argued, "The agency totally omitted the value of reducing greenhouse gas emissions" when it assigned a zero value to such reductions during a cost-benefit analysis.

But U.S. Justice Department attorney Thomas Byron contended the agency "took a broad look at a number of ways of addressing competing issues" and did its best to consider "how to adapt efficient technology in a way that benefits the entire country the most."

The panel took the case under consideration after an hour-long hearing and will issue a written ruling at a later date.

The judges did not indicate how they will rule, but two asked questions that appeared to be skeptical of the agency process.

Judge Michael Hawkins asked Byron, "What's the case for assigning a zero value to carbon dioxide reduction?"

The government attorney said the reason was that the benefits were "imprecise," were thought to be relatively small, and were considered to be balanced by other impacts that were also difficult to quantify.

Hawkins commented, "That's like saying, 'Yes, we have no bananas.'"

Judge Betty Fletcher questioned why the cost-benefit calculations assumed that heavier SUVs, which use more gas, are safer, since the heavier vehicles may be safer for their own occupants but more dangerous for people who are hit by them.

"The little guy needs protection," she said.

Byron answered, "The obligation of the NHTSA is to protect all occupants" of all vehicles.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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