Greenhouse Gas Emissions26
On November 15, 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected the Bush administration's fuel economy standards for light trucks and sport utility vehicles. The three-judge panel objected that the regulations fail to take sufficiently into account the economic impact that tailpipe emissions can be expected to have on climate change. The judges also questioned why the standards were so much easier on light trucks than passenger cars. (The standards hold that by 2010 light trucks are to average 23.5 mpg, whereas passenger cars are to average 27.5 mpg.)
Although it is expected that an appeal will be made to the U.S. Supreme Court, this ruling is one of several recent federal court rulings that urge regulators to consider the risk of climate change in setting standards for carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gas emissions from industry.
Patrick A. Parenteau, Vermont Law School environmental law professor, is quoted as saying, "What this says to me is that the courts are catching up with climate change and the law is catching up with climate change. Climate change has ushered in a whole new era of judicial review."27
One of the judges, Betty B. Fletcher, invoked the National Environmental Policy Act in calling for cumulative impacts analyses explicitly taking into account the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Acknowledging that cost benefit analysis may appropriately indicate realistic limits for fuel economy standards, she insisted that "it cannot put a thumb on the scale by undervaluing the benefits and overvaluing the costs of more stringent standards."
Finally, Judge Fletcher wrote,"What was a reasonable balancing of competing statutory priorities 20 years ago may not be a reasonable balancing of those priorities today."
Given recent court trends, what implications are there for the responsibilities (and opportunities) of engineers working in the affected areas?