Weatherford Democrat

January 26, 2009

States may gain power over emissions standards


WASHINGTON (AP) — Plunging into energy policy, President Barack Obama is poised to give states a freer hand in curbing emissions from cars, and to get his government moving on fuel-efficiency standards that could remake the auto industry.

Obama will announce his plans Monday at the White House, according to officials familiar with the details who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the president.

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.

In one key move, Obama is aiming to let California and other states set their own tailpipe emission standards, a tool for reducing the gases, principally carbon dioxide, that contribute to global warming.

And in the other, Obama will order the Transportation Department to enact short-term rules on how automakers can improve fuel efficiency of their new models based on a 2007 law.

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. The formal process will take time but is expected to end up in the states’ favor. The Bush administration had rejected the request on grounds that a national fuel-efficiency strategy would work better — the same position the auto industry took.

“Reports of President Obama’s decision to revisit the outrageous denial of the California waiver by the Bush Administration are more than welcome news,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a written statement released Sunday night. “When the waiver is signed, 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.”