Obama directs EPA to reconsider Bush-era auto emission policy
By Ken Bensinger and Jim Tankersley
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles -- President Obama today directed the
Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a Bush-era decision that stopped
California and at least 17 other states from setting their own, stricter limits
on auto emissions.
"For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change," Obama said in the East Room of the White House. "It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs."
"Allowing California and other states to aggressively reduce their own harmful vehicle tailpipe emissions would be a historic win for clean air and for millions of Americans who want more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly cars," said Schwarzenegger in an e-mailed statement.
News of Obama's expected statement won quick praise from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who said it was "more than welcome news."
In 2002, California passed a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for vehicles, but couldn't enforce it, as a series of lawsuits filed by the auto industry held it up.
Last year, judges handed down several rulings that would allow the rule's adoption, but an EPA waiver was still required.
The California rules don't strictly limit mileage. But by setting caps on carbon emissions, they would effectively require vehicles to reach as much as 42 mpg by 2020, according to some estimates. Currently, only two mass-produced vehicles, the Toyota Prius and the hybrid Honda Civic, average at least 42 mpg.
To reach that level on a fleetwide basis, automakers would likely have to invest in costly new technologies such as hybrid drive trains. Industry estimates put the per-vehicle cost of compliance as high as $5,000.
The Bush administration had been charged with developing final rules for the new federal mileage requirements, but elected to pass that task on to Obama, citing the auto industry's deep economic woes. Those rules must be published by April.
In taking up the tailpipe emissions issue after less than a week in office, Obama is sending a signal about the importance his administration places on environmental matters, environmentalists said.
There had been some expectation among them that Obama would instruct the EPA to grant the California waiver immediately, using the existing regulations.
But by sending the matter back to Jackson, Obama also indicates that he is aware of the auto industry's difficulties and willing to develop rules that would accommodate some of its immediate concerns.
Last month, the Bush administration agreed to give General Motors Corp. and Chrysler $17.4 billion in emergency loans.
The two automakers, which suffered the worst sales declines in a quarter-century last year, have until Feb. 17 to submit restructuring plans to the federal government, which will evaluate those plans by the end of March.
In addition to technological concerns, automakers worry that having the California rules in place would create regulatory chaos, with two separate rules on the books. They have argued that if government is going to regulate carbon emissions, as is the case in Europe, there should be one national rule.
That's a position echoed by environmentalists, who believe that California's regulations would open the door for serious discussion for a new countrywide standard.
"It's not going to happen overnight," said Spencer Quong, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This is a huge notice that the administration is going to deliver on its promise to clean up the environment and fight global warming."
Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times
|Photo © Paul S. Hamilton||HOME / DONATE NOW / SIGN UP FOR E-NETWORK / CONTACT US / PHOTO USE /|