U.S. Car Manufacturers Hit Back At Environmental Damages Claim

First suit to seek damages from manufacturers for greenhouse gases.

U.S. car manufacturers have challenged a California lawsuit which demands the auto companies pay damages for harm to the environment from vehicle emissions, court documents showed Dec. 18. Bill Lockyer, attorney general for California, filed suit in September against General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and the North American outlets of Toyota, Nissan and Honda. The suit said vehicle emissions were "among the world's largest contributors to global warming," and held the industry accountable for environmental damage ranging from beach erosion to melting snow packs in the Sierra Mountains.

The suit, the first of its kind to seek damages from manufacturers for contribution to greenhouse gases, claimed that the companies were responsible for 30% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions in California. However, the car manufacturers argued in a counter-suit filed Dec.15 that the claims have no basis in law and could cause "incalculable damage to the nation's carefully regulated transportation industry and the national economy."

The carmakers argued that regulation of global warming was a question to be addressed by the federal government and its agencies, not the courts. They also argued that the issue was a sensitive matter of foreign policy because of President George W. Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and its emissions standards.

"This is a policy determination of the highest order that is properly reserved for the political branches of the federal government," the companies said. But Lockyer argued that inaction of the Bush administration has compelled the state to act. "Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of carbon emissions contributing to global warming, yet the federal government and the automakers have refused to act," said Lockyer in the suit. "It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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