Car-makers get one down, two to go in triple-suit Cal. GHG attack

Rob Luke Sep. 19, 2007, 8:42am

Theodore Boutrous

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A departing federal judge has booted California Attorney General Jerry Brown's public-nuisance lawsuit against the Big Six automakers over greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Sacramento-based District Court Judge Martin Jenkins yesterday agreed with an earlier request by automakers to dismiss People of California v. General Motors et al. Jenkins ruled that California has many more emitters of GHGs than just automobiles and so cannot assign the level of automakers' responsibility for GHG output.

Jenkins' ruling mirrors the arguments of automakers' attorney Theodore Boutrous, a partner at the Los Angeles offices of law firm Gibson Dunn, made to Jenkins six months ago. Boutrous argued that car-makers can't be singled out in state global-warming lawsuits, Legal News Line reported early March.

Brown still has several other legal irons in the (low-emission) fire connecting the auto industry to GHG emissions. He recently renewed a threat to sue the federal EPA next month to get the Golden State a waiver to enforce lower tailpipe-GHG standards for the state's vehicles.

He also followed through with a lawsuit filed by predecessor Bill Lockyer against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTRA) over gas mileage requirements for "light trucks," LNL reported in May. Twelve other state AGs have also signed on to that lawsuit.

Brown also pursued the dismissed public-nuisance lawsuit as a leftover from Lockyer after indicating during his AG campaign that he may drop it. Jenkins' ruling yesterday confirmed the wisdom of that option.

"The Court is left without guidance in determining what is an unreasonable contribution to the sum of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, or in determining who should bear the costs associated with the global climate change that admittedly result from multiple sources around the globe," he wrote in dismissal.

"Plaintiff has failed to provide convincing legal authority to support its proposition that the legal framework for assessing global warming nuisance damages is well-established," the judge added.

Last month Judge Jenkins made the unusual decision to step down from his life-tenured position on the federal bench for an opening on the California State Court of Appeals, the National Law Journal reported. The 54-year-old judge is rumored to covet the easier load of appellate compared to trial cases.

Before his elevation by President Bill Clinton to the federal bench in 1997, the moderate Democrat spent five years as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court. Brown recently served two terms as mayor of Oakland, in Alameda County.

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