DETROIT, Dec. 7 Toyota, General Motors and seven other automakers filed suit on Tuesday to block California's new greenhouse
gas regulation, which was approved by the state in its final form in September.
The suit sets up a battle between automakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Although Mr. Schwarzenegger
is a fan of the Hummer, an S.U.V. with prodigious greenhouse gas emissions, he has promised nonetheless to defend the regulation,
which was signed by his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis.
The regulation - the first of its kind in North America - would require automakers to cut by roughly 30 percent the greenhouse
gas emissions from cars and trucks sold in the state by the 2016 model year. The industry is suing in federal court in Fresno,
Calif., contending that California's regulation is pre-empted by Washington's authority to regulate fuel economy. Greenhouse
gas emissions from cars and trucks are a function of fuel economy.
"Federal law is designed to ensure a consistent fuel economy program across the country," said Fred Webber, the chief executive
of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the lobbying group that filed the suit Tuesday with several car dealers.
In an interview last week, Terry Tamminen, California's cabinet secretary and a top adviser to Mr. Schwarzenegger, said
the governor "supports the greenhouse gas bill." Mr. Tamminen added that the governor had said that "he intended to fight
the expected court challenges."
Automakers said Tuesday that greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy should be handled by Washington, though the industry
has also lobbied vigorously against significant increases in fuel economy standards by Congress.
Largely because of the rise of sport utility vehicles, the average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the United States
has declined since the late 1980's, driving up greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the country's oil consumption.
"The auto industry is claiming that no action should be taken on the federal level to clean up cars; now they're claiming
no action should be taken at the state level," said Daniel Becker, global warming policy director at the Sierra Club.
In a letter to top managers Tuesday, William Clay Ford Jr., the chairman and chief executive of the Ford and Motor
Company, said he was still committed to addressing climate change. Mr. Ford has been outspoken on the issue in Detroit,
and his company has internally laid out a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over a much longer time frame, by 2030.
But "the prospect of 50 different requirements in 50 different states," he said in his letter, "would be nothing short of
Automakers mainly fear the prospect of two efficiency requirements: one from Sacramento and one from Washington. California
already has the unique authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set its own air quality rules, because the state's smog-battling
rules predated those of the federal government.
Other states have the discretion to choose California's air rules over those of Washington, and seven Northeastern states,
including New York, do so. Under the new regulation, a fifth of the nation's auto market could have far stricter efficiency
rules than the rest of the country.
The industry contends that California's new rules would add about $3,000 to the average cost of a new vehicle. State regulators
have said that the added cost would be closer to $1,000, which would be more than made up for over time by saving fuel.
Automakers have also said they would probably react by restricting their sales of large sport utility vehicles and other
inefficient vehicles in California.
"This regulation would limit consumer choice and increase vehicle prices," said Jim Press, executive vice president and
chief operating officer of Toyota's United States sales operation. He added that among Toyota's current models, only the Prius
hybrid car and the manual transmission version of the Echo compact car would be able to comply with the regulation.
"The rest of our cars and trucks would have to be completely re-engineered or eliminated," he added, in a statement. In
other settings, Toyota has indicated that it plans significant expansion of its hybrid vehicle offerings across its lineup
over the next decade.
Environmentalists expressed disappointment that Toyota, which has heavily advertised its environmental intentions, was
party to the suit, though the move was expected.
"I think it's very disappointing that Toyota is joining," said Russell Long, president of the San Francisco-based Bluewater
Network, which drafted the original proposal.
In addition to Toyota and General Motors, the other automakers in the alliance that filed the suit are Ford, DaimlerChrysler,
BMW, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Porsche, and Volkswagen. Honda and Nissan are not part of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
and did not join the suit. Both companies said they opposed the regulation and were mulling their options.
"We have very serious reservations to the state-by-state approach to regulating climate change," said Ed Cohen, Honda's
vice president for government and industry relations.
Smog-forming pollutants from cars have been regulated for decades, but the California law would be the first in North America
to address automotive emissions of the gases linked by many scientists to global warming trends.
"I think the state is going to lose," said Kevin P. Holewinski, a lawyer at the law firm of Jones Day in Washington, which
is representing a utility involved in a global warming suit brought by the attorneys general of several states this year.
The law, he said, would "effectively establish a fuel economy standard." While catalytic converters act as filters of tiny
smog-forming particles, there is no similar device to mitigate global warming gases, so reducing them is largely tied to improving
David Doniger, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "It's not uncommon in the modern world for two
laws that have different purposes to operate side by side and have some connection to each other when they are implemented."