In a major victory for environmentalists and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Obama administration on Tuesday granted California permission to set the nation’s first rules requiring automakers to reduce global warming emissions from new cars, minivans, pickups and SUVs.
The permission – which had been denied by the Bush administration – means California can immediately enact tougher vehicle standards. That puts the state ahead of similar federal regulations that President Barack Obama approved in May, but which don’t take effect until 2012.
Tuesday’s approval highlights an emerging trend: Obama moving quickly to embrace many of California’s climate regulations and attempting to duplicate them on a national scale.
“California has raised the federal consciousness of the importance of taking action on global warming,” said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies in Washington, D.C. “Not only has California talked the talk, it has been walking the walk and adopting programs that are now serving as models for Congress and the Obama administration.”
Obama’s action means that automakers selling cars in California – along with 13 other states and the District of Columbia that copied California’s rules – will be required to start phasing in more fuel-efficient vehicles immediately among the new models they offer, with a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from each automaker required by 2016.
That will mean making smaller cars and fewer SUVs in some cases, while also ramping up production of alternative-fuel vehicles, such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
“The waiver will give California and the 13 other states a head start over the federal standard. It accelerates the investment by automakers in creating cleaner, more efficient cars,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, who wrote the original law in 2002 setting California’s standards.
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