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SCOTT JAGOW: Exhaust from cars and trucks is a major cause of air pollution. California believes carmakers should help pay for the damage. The state filed a lawsuit yesterday against six American and Japanese automakers for spewing carbon dioxide into the air. They're going after GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan. It's an aggressive move, but does it stand a chance? Sam Eaton reports from our Sustainability Desk.

SAM EATON: The lawsuit builds on a legal battle over whether California has the right to regulate CO2 emissions as a pollutant.

Peter Brown with Automotive News says it all started four years ago when the state passed a law requiring automakers to cut vehicles' CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2009. The auto industry responded with a lawsuit.

PETER BROWN: So this is now the state coming back and saying 'well alright we're going to sue you for causing global warming.'

California wants automakers to pay up to a billion dollars for damages, things like coastal erosion and increased levee protection.

Brown calls it a publicity stunt, but Jody Freeman who heads Harvard's environmental law program says California may just pull it off.

JODY FREEMAN: Public nuisance suits are a very traditional mechanism for states to use to sue on behalf of their citizens when the public health has been compromised. It's not an entirely fanciful exercise.

Freeman says the main challenge is one of causation. In a world of smokestacks it's hard to lay the blame on a single source.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam