LOS ANGELES – The Bush administration weighed in Wednesday on the contentious battle over California’s efforts to clean its air, joining automakers in arguing a state mandate that seeks to curb tailpipe emissions is pre-empted by federal law.
In a friend of the courts brief, the Justice Department maintained that federal law overrides any state effort to regulate fuel economy for cars and trucks.
In its 37-page filing with a federal appeals court in San Francisco, the department lawyers argued that California’s zero emission mandate impinges on what is solely a federal responsibility.
“The Energy Policy and Conservation Act provides that when a federal fuel economy standard is in effect, a state or a political subdivision of a state may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards,” the department argued.
A spokeswoman for California state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said the move dashed hopes the administration would cooperate with the state in its efforts to meet federal clean air standards.
“It’s disappointing we have the Bush administration choosing to attack California instead of working with California to clean up our air,” said Lockyer spokeswoman Sandra Michioku.
The 12-year-old zero-emissions mandate requires an increasing percentage of new cars and trucks sold in California emit no or extremely low levels of pollution. Under its provisions, automakers can partially meet the requirement by selling hybrids – fuel-efficient vehicles that pair a gasoline engine with an electric motor.
General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler and several auto dealers sued the state in February over the mandate. They won a preliminary injunction in June delaying enforcement of the law, which was to have entered effect Jan. 1. They argued the mandate related to the setting of fuel economy standards, which only Congress can do.
The state appealed the case, with environmental groups and others joining its cause.
On Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. and U.S. Attorney John K. Vincent took the side of the plaintiffs in arguing the state was attempting to regulate fuel economy standards.
The zero-emissions rule allows automakers to earn credits by selling more hybrids. The number of credits granted for each vehicle sold is decided by its fuel efficiency, according to the zero-emissions mandate.