Forbes Bagatellle-Black's assessment of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's move to sue the big car companies for emissions harms:
Experts Weigh In on the Lockyer Lawsuit
Forbes Bagatelle-Black, September 22, 2006 (EV World)
- California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed a lawsuit against Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Toyota of North America, Honda of North America and Nissan North America. The lawsuit alleges that emissions from vehicles manufactured by these companies have created a public nuisance which has caused quantifiable damages to California residents...
- Deputy Attorney General Harrison Pollak...is an attorney [Environment Section/Public Rights Division/Office of the California Attorney General] working on the case...
- I asked Pollak if the state was going to seek damages. “...Exactly right...we are also seeking a declaration that the auto companies are liable for present and future damages resulting from emissions of greenhouse gasses from their vehicles...There is $40M in the state budget this year allocated to dealing with the effects of global warming. This type of expense can be directly associated with emissions such as those described in the lawsuit...Public nuisance theory goes back hundreds of years. It has been used in environmental cases for more than a century. Part of the definition of a public nuisance is that it causes harm to life, health and property..."
- Why just the car companies? Why not go after all sources of greenhouse gas emissions? Pollak had obviously pondered these questions prior to my asking, “You have to start somewhere. Car companies are huge contributors to global warming. Also, there is great potential to introduce better technologies into the transportation industry, but car companies have historically dragged their feet at every proposed advance in automotive safety or pollution control...It is not the focus of our lawsuit to find out what they can do to fix the problem. We want them to pay for the damage they have done...”
- This reporter knows many people who are not afraid to offer answers to question regarding greenhouse gas emissions...
- Tom Gage, president of the electric vehicle company AC Propulsion...“To me, it is a typical deal with legislators who have no technical understanding. It’s not clear what Lockyer would have the car companies do instead. The only way to comply would be to generate all power through renewables...This should be done through the legislative branch, not the judicial branch...It does not reflect well on the environmental movement to support something like this. It does not address the crux of the issue.”
- Gail Slocum, former mayor of Menlo Park and senior policy advisor to the electric vehicle advocacy group CalCars...“I’m encouraged to see the pressure being brought which could cause a sea change similar to what happened with tobacco litigation several years ago. The tobacco lobby was so firmly entrenched in Washington that the federal government would not or could not take any action against tobacco companies. However, when the litigators won a few cases, big tobacco gave up. Lawsuits like this could cause something similar to happen in the automotive industry.”
- CalCars founder Felix Kramer...“I don't know if precedents apply, and it may be a difficult case to prove. But it's great to the extent that it motivates auto-makers to factor carbon dioxide emissions into their business models. Increasingly, car-buyers are asking for ‘environmental features’ in the face of critics who use traditional criteria for what is ‘economically viable.’ They and auto-makers are starting to recognize the negative global paybacks we get from cars. Of course the first company to start manufacturing a plug-in hybrid, with half the CO2 emissions of the equivalent car, merits a prize, not a summons.”
- Herman Trabish, publisher of the “New Energy News” blog...“Lockyer is trying to be like Elliot Spitzer and more power to both. A settlement would do what Branson is trying to do with his three billion dollar gift this morning. It would begin making the biggest carbon burners a little more carbon neutral. Smart people know we've got to have a carbon tax, one way or another, because we've got to stop burning carbon.”
- Chelsea Sexton, Executive Director of the group Plug-In America...“I think it is an example of one more way this issue is being dealt with in the national conversation. It represents one more way theses issues are being addressed. The auto makers need to realize that consumers are focusing more on emissions. They need to respond to consumer demand and offer more choices and cleaner choices.”
- Pete Nortman, president of EnergyCS, a company developing a conversion kit which turns a Toyota Prius into a plug-in hybrid...“I think many people could easily be persuaded to take the side of the auto companies on this because it is the status quo, even though it's not in their best interest to do so...We need to make change, and to do this, we need to make courageous choices to live differently - live within nature instead of living off nature. Our western standard of living is built upon two things, plentiful and inexpensive energy, and science. Now science is telling us that we can't spend the energy at the rate we are doing it and remain sustainable. We need to respect our limits.”
- ...Those of us who saw the California EV mandate come and go have grown skeptical to transportation solutions proposed by the government...most agree that this lawsuit has the potential to do some good, at least. I guess we will just have to wait and see.