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California sues automakers over emissions

AG alleges harm to environment as well as health

SACRAMENTO -- California's attorney general yesterday sued the six largest US and Japanese automakers, including GM, Ford, and Toyota, alleging that emissions from their vehicles have harmed health, damaged the environment, and cost the state millions to combat the effects.

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

Last month, the California Legislature passed a landmark bill designed to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from industries. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign it into law this month. Two years ago, the state enacted similar requirements for auto emissions.

Lockyer's action comes 48 days before the November election. He 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 at the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research.

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 suit names Chrysler Motors Corp., General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor North America, Honda North America, and Nissan North America. They responded by saying they already are building cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

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 US District Court of Appeals in New York. Connecticut and seven other states, including California, have sued five power companies to get them to reduce 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."

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.

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