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10 states sue government over fuel economy rules

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WASHINGTON -- California and nine other states sued the federal government Tuesday, trying to force the Bush administration to strengthen gas mileage requirements for sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

The lawsuit contends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to conduct a thorough analysis of the environmental benefits of fuel economy regulations and the impact of gasoline consumption on climate change.

"The federal agency has ignored the law that requires integrating environmental impacts into their standard-setting," said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

With many consumers facing gas prices exceeding $3 a gallon and Congress looking at potential remedies, the states filed a petition for review with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The action follows the federal government's issuance of a rule in late March setting tighter gas mileage rules for pickups, SUVs and vans covering the 2008-2011 model years.

The Bush administration said the program, based on the vehicle's size, was expected to save 10.7 billion gallons of fuel over the lifetime of the vehicles sold during that period. The program -- expected to lead to a fleetwide average of 24 miles per gallon by 2011 -- will be phased in through 2010 and take full effect the following year.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson defended the rulemaking process, saying the agency conducted a thorough analysis of fuel-saving technologies while balancing the need to raise standards with safety and economic ramifications.

"We're confident that we went through a very rigorous process in writing the final light truck standard and we're confident that it will get upheld in court," Tyson said.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, declined comment on the lawsuit. The trade group that represents nine automakers has said the new standards will be a challenge but they have developed alternative-fuel vehicles and more than 100 vehicles earning at least 30 miles per gallon.

Plans for the lawsuit were first reported by The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Amid rising gas prices and worries about energy independence, the administration asked Congress last week to give it the authority to change fuel economy standards for passenger cars. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta was scheduled to testify Wednesday before a House committee discussing the proposal.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the federal government's analysis was "fundamentally flawed" and the new regulations failed "to consider the dangerous impact of gasoline consumption on climate change," allowing larger vehicles to be built with greater weight and less fuel economy.

"The proposed upgrade in fuel economy standards is a complete sham and a gift to the auto industry," Blumenthal said.

The attorneys general said they were also concerned that the government argues that its fuel economy standards would pre-empt California's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Similar lawsuits were filed last month by the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, are expected to sue the government over the regulation later this month, said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program.

The 10 states are California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. The District of Columbia and New York City were also plaintiffs.


Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

On the Net:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers: http://www.autoalliance.org

Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org

Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org

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