- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s attorney general yesterday sued the six largest U.S. and Japanese automakers, including GM, Ford and Toyota, for damages related to greenhouse-gas emissions.

The federal lawsuit says emissions from their vehicles have harmed Californians’ health, damaged the environment and cost the state millions of dollars to curb their effects.

“It’s part of a strategy to address global warming,” Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. “The goal of this one is to hold these automobile manufacturers accountable for the monies taxpayers are spending to address these harms.”

The lawsuit is the latest effort from California to combat the effects of global warming.

Last month, the state Legislature passed a landmark bill designed to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from industries. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law by the end of the month.

Two years ago, the state enacted similar requirements for auto emissions, prompting automakers to file suit in federal court.

Mr. Lockyer’s action comes 48 days before the November election. He is term-limited out of office this year and is running for state treasurer.

“This is the silly season of elections in the fall, and obviously he thinks this will gain him a few marginal votes,” said Sean McAlinden, an economist with the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I don’t think it means anything more than it says. It’s California politics.”

Mr. Lockyer said the complaint has nothing to do with election-year politics. His Republican opponent, state Board of Equalization member Claude Parrish, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, names Chrysler Motors Corp., General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor North America, Honda North America and Nissan North America.

The automakers responded to Mr. Lockyer’s lawsuit by issuing a statement saying they already are building cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers did not respond to the substance of Mr. Lockyer’s lawsuit, saying manufacturers would need time to review the complaint.

Mr. Lockyer is suing on the theory that greenhouse gases are a “public nuisance” under both California and federal law, an argument similar to one being pursued in a case before the 2nd U.S. District Court of Appeals in New York. Connecticut and seven other states, including California, have sued five power companies to get them to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Connecticut lawsuit was dismissed by a district judge, who said it attempted to address political questions. In a brief filed in support of the utility companies, the automakers alliance argued that such a suit “opens the door to lawsuits targeting any activity that uses fossil fuel for energy.”

“Suits like this show that many attorneys general are bored with their jobs; they yearn to make policy, not just enforce laws that someone else has written,” said William J. Olson, a constitutional lawyer in McLean, Va.

“The common law public nuisance doctrine was more designed to shut down houses of ill repute and rendering plants than lawful businesses like the auto industry,” said Mr. Olson, who served in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Lockyer often joins multistate lawsuits, but he said he did know whether other states or environmental groups planned to enlist in his latest effort against auto manufacturers. His lawsuit is the first that seeks monetary damages from the auto industry for greenhouse-gas emissions.

Staff writer Gregory Lopes contributed to this report from Washington.

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