Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Car companies try to kill global warming standards behind closed doors

An excellent editorial from The Sacramento Bee

Editorial: Detroit shuffle

Trials of warming lawsuits must be public

Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Turn on a television or flip through a magazine, and you are likely to see ads for Toyota, Ford and other automobile manufacturers extolling their commitment to a cleaner, greener planet.

In federal courtrooms, their actions tell a much different story. For the last three years, trade groups that represent major automobile manufacturers have been suing California and other states to prevent them from regulating automobile emissions that cause global warming.

If that weren't egregious enough, the automakers are now effectively attempting to pursue these lawsuits in closed courtrooms. Federal judges must not let that happen.

At stake is nothing less than vanguard efforts by California and other states to fight global warming. California passed a law last year to reduce its greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020. The effectiveness of that mandate hinges on one passed in 2003 (known as the Pavley Law, after its sponsor, former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley), which targets emissions from cars and trucks. If the Pavley law were to be terminated, it would undermine California's overall effort, since 41 percent of the state's greenhouse gases come from motor vehicles.

The automakers want this law terminated. Here in California, they have sued to block the Pavley law regulations in U.S. District Court. In January, Judge Anthony Ishii postponed the trial, pending an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether carbon dioxide can be regulated as a pollutant.

The automakers have also sued Rhode Island and Vermont for passing similar laws, and in the Vermont case, a federal judge decided not to stay the proceedings. Ever since, the automakers have been pressing the court to hold much of the proceedings "in camera," or in closed chambers. The automakers claim it is impossible to achieve the emission reductions required by the Pavley-type laws, and to support this claim, they have filed tens of thousands of pages of documents that they say contain "highly confidential information."

While this trial might delve into some legitimate trade secrets, lawyers for Vermont and the Burlington Free Press say the automakers are exaggerating the extent of these secrets -- in all likelihood to avoid public scrutiny.

U.S. District Judge William Sessions III, who is overseeing the Vermont case, held a hearing yesterday on the automakers' request and says he will rule shortly. He should look skeptically on requests to close this trial, as should Judge Ishii if a similar motion is made in the California case.

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