U.S. President Barack Obama told the Environmental Protection Agency Monday to reconsider California's request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars, reversing the climate policies of former President George W. Bush.
Obama said Monday that U.S. foreign oil dependence and climate change posed urgent threats to America's national security. Obama said it would be his administration's objective to reverse U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil. "I cannot promise a quick fix," he said during a ceremony at the White House to announce new energy and climate change initiatives.
California's request, which was denied by the Bush administration, would allow it to impose stricter limits on vehicle carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for contributing to the global warming. If approved, more than 12 states could follow suit in imposing limits that are tougher than federal requirements.
The president also directed the Department of Transportation to move forward with setting vehicle fuel efficiency standards for 2011 by March, giving automakers an 18 month period to impose them.
He also instructed the U.S. government in general to become more energy efficient. "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts. We will be guided by them," he said.
The attention to energy comes as Obama heads into his first full week as president, with an agenda dominated by economic woes and a push to get a huge stimulus plan through Congress.
On car emissions, the Clean Air Act gives California special authority to regulate vehicle pollution because the state began regulating such pollution before the federal government did. But a federal waiver is still required; if the waiver is granted, other states can choose to adopt California's standards or the federal ones.
But in 2007 the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency denied California's request, gaining praise from the auto industry but touching off a storm of investigations and lawsuits from Democrats and environmental groups who contended the denial was based on political instead of scientific reasons.
California's proposed restrictions would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.
At least 13 other states—Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—have already adopted California's standards, and they have been under consideration elsewhere, too.
Last week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, sent a letter to Obama asking him to give California and other states permission to implement the tough tailpipe-emission standards.
Schwarzenegger said Obama "has a unique opportunity to both support the pioneering leadership of these states and move America toward global leadership on addressing climate change." Obama will direct EPA regulators to re-examine California's case.
Here's a look at some reaction behind the moves:
-Gasoline use accounts for almost half of U.S. daily oil consumption, and higher vehicle fuel economy standards could reduce future U.S. reliance on foreign oil suppliers. "By raising fuel efficiency standards, our cars will burn less gas, Americans will save at the pump, and our country will be less dependent on oil," said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
—The Bush administration's decision to forgo setting federal vehicle gasoline mileage requirements gives the Obama administration the opportunity to impose much higher fuel economy standards. "The Obama administration appears ready to nudge the car companies to re-tool and join the 21st century," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
—Stronger fuel requirements could force U.S. automakers to manufacture more cars and trucks that run on alternative fuels, such as electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. "It will be a signal to Detroit that a huge market awaits them, if they do the right thing and produce the cleanest, most efficient vehicles possible," said California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
— U.S. automakers may have a hard time continuing to sue to block states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time getting government loans to restructure. "It is deplorable that these companies are taking taxpayer funds and then turning around to sue in an effort to keep making higher-polluting cars," O'Donnell said.
—Obama's move sends a signal to the world that the United States, the second largest greenhouse gas polluter after China, is serious about slowing emissions of the gases blamed for warming the planet. Rich and poor countries are trying to move past gridlock to formulate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Treaty on global warming by the end of the year in Copenhagen.
—Allowing states to cut greenhouse gas emissions could put pressure on Congress to more quickly pass legislation that implements a nationwide cap-and-trade system for emission permits to fight climate change. "Just days into office, President Obama is showing America and the world that he will lead our country in a bold new direction to protect the environment and fight global warming," said NRDC's Beinecke.