Obama asks EPA to reconsider state-set emissions standards

Just a week into his presidency, Barack Obama has already set out to reverse several of Bush’s policies, including policies on long-contentious climate and energy issues.

One issue is fuel economy standards and emissions requirements for the nation’s automobile fleet. Obama announced today that he plans to make it easier for states to set their own fuel economy and emissions standards — something Obama said that the White House has stood in the way of in the past, but no longer. “The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them,” he said at the White House today.

Last week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to Obama asking him to reconsider Bush’s policies. “Your administration has a unique opportunity to … move America toward global leadership on addressing climate change,” Schwarzenegger said. California has been trying to pass stricter vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards for years, only to be stymied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In the past, states such as California that wanted to impose stricter rules on emissions had to get a waiver from the EPA — which had denied California’s waiver request previously, sending the case to court. The president’s new policy will not require states to jump through legal hoops to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

This announcement is consistent with the administration’s agenda for energy and the environment. According to the White House Web site, “within 10 years [the United States will] save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.” Fuel economy is just one of the ways Obama intends to get us there.

This comes as a blow to the already-reeling auto industry. “Our nation's automakers are struggling — drastically restructuring and shedding jobs just to stay afloat," Antonia Ferrier, press secretary to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Bloomberg businesswire. “And now they are being forced to spend billions of dollars to comply with California's emissions standards, instead of using that money to save American jobs.”

In his statement this morning, Obama anticipated this criticism. “Let me be clear, our goal is not to burden an already struggling industry. It's to help America's automakers prepare for the future. This commitment must extend beyond the short-term assistance for businesses and workers. We must help them thrive by building the cars of tomorrow and galvanizing a dynamic and viable industry for decades to come.”

California has been a leader in environmental standards for years. If California’s restrictions are implemented, automakers would have to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016. And California is not alone; at least 13 other states, including New York and Florida, have already adopted California’s restrictions and represent about 40 percent of the population, according to auto industry estimates.

Alexandra Ossola
Monday, January 26, 2009 - 12:28