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State Vehicle Emissions Regulations Now Vulnerable

At the AEI event Ted discussed earlier, preemption scholar Michael Greve argued that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Riegel v. Medtronic (Feb. 20, 2008) conflicts with two earlier district court rulings upholding state regulations of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions against preemption challenges. I agree.

In Riegel, the Supreme Court preempted all state law rules, even common-law torts, that contain any "requirement" that "relates to the safety or effectiveness" of FDA-approved medical devices above and beyond those prescribed by the FDA in its premarket approval process. It held that federal preemption provisions should be interpreted as broadly as their plain language mandates, and that common law torts "relate" to safety or effectiveness requirements of medical devices even if they are labeled as general principles of tort law not focused on medical devices in particular. It did not require additional or conclusive proof that Congress had a specific intent to preempt state tort law.

By contrast, the district court rulings upholding state vehicle emissions regulations rely on contrary reasoning. In Central Valley Chrysler Jeep v. Goldstene (2007), a judge upheld California emissions regulations that effectively required higher fuel economy standards, even though a federal law (EPCA) states that no state may "adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards." In order to do so, the judge deliberately construed the federal preemption provision "as narrowly" as possible, applying a strong "presumption against preemption" that required proof that Congress had a "clear and manifest purpose" to preempt state greenhouse gas regulations. Similarly, Vermont greenhouse gas emissions were upheld only because the trial judge rejected a "simple 'plain wording' analysis" rooted in the language of the statute, and instead required proof of an additional "clear and manifest purpose" on the part of Congress to preempt the state law. Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie, 508 F.Supp.2d 295 (D. Vt. 2007).

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.