California's attempt to collect billions of dollars in damages by accusing automakers of creating a global warming-related "nuisance" was dismissed Monday by a federal judge in San Francisco.
The courts aren't set up to deal with climate change and other "political questions" with international reach, U.S. District Court Judge Martin J. Jenkins said. That task belongs to Congress and the executive branch of the government, he said.
The suit, originally filed a year ago by former Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, claimed that emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases from automobile tailpipes cause environmental damage. It cited as examples melting Sierra snowpacks, prolonged droughts and dying forests.
Car makers denied that their products could be characterized as nuisances under California and federal law. "Our bottom-line point is that global warming presents exceedingly complex policy issues that must be addressed at the national and international levels by Congress and the president, not through lawsuits seeking damages in the federal courts," said Ted Boutrous, lead attorney for the auto companies.
The defendants in the case included General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor North America Inc., Ford Motor Co., American Honda Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler Corp. and Nissan North America Inc.
Those same auto companies, independently and through trade groups, are suing the state of California in U.S. District Court in Fresno, challenging a 2002 California law that would limit vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
That case revolves around states' rights to control pollution under the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1967. California and other states got a boost last week when a federal judge in Vermont ruled against automakers in a similar suit. The Vermont and Fresno cases, however, deal with legal questions different from those argued before the judge in San Francisco.
California Deputy Atty. Gen. Ken Alex said he was disappointed with the San Francisco judge's decision and was considering an appeal. "We recognize that it's a difficult decision for a district court judge to jump into a global warming public nuisance case," Alex said.
He said the state sued the automakers because Congress and the Bush administration had taken no meaningful action to deal with the threat of global warming. "In fact, they are standing in the way of California doing something," he said.