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
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
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
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.
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