WASHINGTON – President Obama today plans to instruct key federal agencies to re-examine two policies that could force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars that yield fewer greenhouse gas emissions, according to sources who have been briefed on the announcement.
The move, which the White House has privately trumpeted to supporters as “the first environment and energy actions taken by the president, helping our country move toward greater energy independence,” could reverse two Bush-era decisions that have helped shape the nation’s climate policy and its auto market.
Obama will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to regulate automobile tailpipe emissions linked to global warming, sources said, and he will order the Transportation Department to issue guidelines that will ensure that the nation’s auto fleet reaches an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, if not earlier.
On Dec. 19, 2007, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson blocked the efforts of California and more than a dozen other states to limit automobiles’ carbon dioxide emissions, arguing that President George W. Bush had addressed the issue by signing a law that same day, raising the corporate average fuel-efficiency standard to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
But California’s tailpipe emissions rules would have effectively required even greater fuel-efficiency increases, by seeking to cut vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, something American automakers have resisted.
Daniel Weiss, who directs climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, praised the new administration for pressing ahead with ambitious fuel economy goals.
“President Obama’s actions will reduce our oil dependence by speeding the production of the gas-sipping cars of the future,” Weiss said. “He understands that oil and gasoline prices will rise with our recovering economy, and more fuel-efficient cars will help families cope with higher prices. And other countries will want to buy our more-efficient vehicles.”
Officials at General Motors and Ford said they were not aware of what the announcement would be. The White House declined to discuss the president’s planned energy announcement.
Obama, who has consistently urged U.S. automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars, is likely to accelerate the timeline for raising the nation’s corporate average fuel economy for cars and trucks. The Transportation Department guidelines must be issued no later than April in order to affect the 2011 auto fleet.
Granting a waiver for California to regulate tailpipe emissions would affect nearly half the U.S. auto market. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have already adopted California’s proposal, while at least four others have pledged to do so. When the EPA rejected the waiver, Obama issued a statement saying the decision “is yet another example of how this Administration has put corporate interests ahead of the public interest. If the courts do not overturn this decision, I will after I am elected president.”
“Not only is the new president a man of his word, but he’s making a dramatic break with the Bush administration’s climate policy,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “It’s a powerful signal that science – and the law – will guide his administration’s decisions. This should prompt cheers from California to Maine.”