SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California is suing the auto industry over tailpipe emissions, marking the first time a state has sought monetary damages for the impact of global warming by vehicles.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Wednesday sued the six largest U.S. and Japanese automakers, claiming they have caused millions of dollars in damage by creating greenhouse gases.
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 U.S. District Court of Appeals in New York.
Vehicles are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. ''In effect, we're getting the taxpayers' money back,'' Lockyer said in a telephone interview.
The lawsuit names Chrysler Motors Corp., General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor North America Inc., American Honda Motor Co. and Nissan North America Inc.
It adds a new dynamic to an ongoing battle between the state and the auto industry over greenhouse gas emissions. In 2002, California lawmakers approved legislation requiring cuts in emissions from cars and light trucks.
The auto industry is challenging those regulations, arguing they can be met only through increased fuel-economy standards, which is the domain of the federal government. The state has countered that emission reductions can be achieved in other ways.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers responded to Lockyer's lawsuit by issuing a statement saying auto companies already are building cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. A spokeswoman declined to address the substance of the 15-page complaint, saying manufacturers would need time to review it.
Lockyer's suit claims California already is dealing with the effects of global warming and its projected consequences. He said the auto companies should be held accountable for past and future actions harming Californians' health and damaging the state's environment.
David Doniger, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., who is defending the California auto regulations in court, said it was not surprising California is looking to hold automakers responsible.
''Industries that release the pollution that is causing global warming have to expect there are going to be more suits of this kind until and unless we have effective national legislation to curb global warming,'' Doniger said.
Most automakers declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley, DaimlerChrysler spokesman Michael Palese, a receptionist at GM's media division and a spokeswoman at Nissan referred calls to the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. spokeswoman Sona Iliffe-Moon said the company was still evaluating the lawsuit.
Honda spokesman David Iida in Detroit said the company was unfamiliar with the lawsuit but said Honda believes the federal government should raise fuel-economy standards as a means to address global warming.
California is attempting to cut the amount of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. As part of its strategy, auto emissions from cars and light trucks would account for about a third of the reductions.
Other reductions would come from industrial sources in a landmark deal that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger struck with Democratic leaders in August during the waning days of the legislative session. It will be the first such cap in the nation if Schwarzenegger signs it into law this month as expected.
The timing of Lockyer's lawsuit - coming 48 days before the November election - raised questions about his motives. Lockyer is termed out as attorney general and is running in a contested race 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 with the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Lockyer, a Democrat, said the complaint has nothing to do with election-year politics. His Republican opponent, state Board of Equalization member Claude Parrish, did not return calls seeking comment.