Federal judge blocks California emissions standards law

Last week, a federal judge issued a ruling that would block part of a major California law intended to set strict vehicle emissions standards.

The California law, agreed upon in 2006 by the California Air Resources Board, intends to set stringent standards for emissions from sources across the board, from oil to electricity. The law also intends to protect the state’s residents from poor air quality and to reduce the perpetual blanket of smog that covers much of Southern California, inciting an increase in the number of respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks in the region.

Now, however, the law is being challenged by a lawsuit that categorizes it as unfair. United States District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill ruled that the statewide law discriminates against fuel from outside of the state, and that it violates federal regulations on interstate commerce. Under federal law, Congress is the sole regulator of interstate trade, and state representatives cannot limit interstate commerce without a strong reason. However, the Air Resources Board countered that the state has a federally-issued exception permitting it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions produced from vehicle fuel. The court also decided that the state of California did not effectively prove that instating the law and reducing vehicle emissions was the only way to prevent climate change.

Both the state of California and the plaintiffs will continue their legal fight on both sides of the issue. One of the plaintiffs, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA), issued a complaint that the new law would most likely raise gas prices for consumers and hurt companies such as the ones that the organization represents. However, the state’s Air Resources Board believes that the law is in place to protect Californians from the continuous price hikes at gas stations across the state, whose residents often pay a premium for gas.

Another plaintiff, a group of corn farmers from the Midwest, stated that the law gave fuels from out of state higher carbon emissions values than fuel produced in California. The corn growers argued that this was unfair and would hurt their business by limiting the trade of corn ethanol produced in the Midwest.

The law, whose goal is to reduce the state’s emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, went into effect in 2010. The following year, fuel companies were supposed to adapt their products to produce fewer emissions. Known as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, it obliges fuel suppliers to manufacture fuel that burns cleaner than current forms of gasoline or diesel. The Air Resources Board expects the law to cut California’s dependence on oil by 20 percent, and to decrease the state’s emissions by 10 percent.

A petition on ForceChange.com states, “[Judge O’Neill’s] decision implies that environmental reform should only trickle down from the national level. However, history may remind us that our national leaders– those who failed to sign the Kyoto Protocol– are often reluctant to tackle environmental issues, expecting instead, that change will occur at a statewide level. We must rise to the occasion and insist that our states approach the first stages of environmental reform.”

As the legal battle over this issue and between consumers and unclean energy companies continues, support is needed for the California Air Resources Board and its pro-environment allies. If upheld, the law would have a dramatic impact on emissions reductions, and Judge O’Neill has even voiced his support for the fight against climate change, calling California’s concerns about global warming “legitimate.” To express your support for instating the law and protecting Californians from dirty air and dirty energy, add your signature to the petition on ForceChange.com.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/scobleizer/5751060596/

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