To kick off the second week of his administration and signal his commitment to environmental and energy issues, President Barack Obama today asked the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing states to set their own strict standards for auto emissions. He also ordered the Department of Transportation to develop national standards for fuel efficiency. The moves are aimed at reversing decisions by [the] Bush administration, which he said had stood in the way of bold action by California and other states to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. “The days of Washington dragging its heels are over,” Obama said [Washington Post].
In 2007, the EPA administrator denied requests from California and 13 other states for waivers allowing them to set stricter standards for vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions, despite the fact that the agency’s own staff scientists recommended granting the waivers. During a signing ceremony in the East Room at the White House, Obama made it clear that he sees a pressing need to address the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and the planet-wide threat of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. “Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve chosen delay over decisive action. Rigid ideology has overruled sound science. Special interests have overshadowed common sense” [ABC News], he said.
California’s proposed regulations don’t strictly limit mileage. But by setting caps on carbon emissions, they would effectively require vehicles to reach as much as 42 mpg by 2020, according to some estimates. Currently, only two mass-produced vehicles, the Toyota Prius and the hybrid Honda Civic, average at least 42 mpg [Los Angeles Times]. To comply, automakers will have to build more hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Today’s second order, in which Obama directed the Department of Transportation to come up with fuel efficiency standards that would bring about a 40 percent improvement in gas mileage for autos and light trucks by 2020, would have a similar effect.
The announcement came on a day of staggeringly bad economic news, with U.S. and foreign companies announcing a total of 62,000 job cuts. As U.S. automakers are struggling to survive this downturn, some questioned the timing of Obama’s initiatives, saying that rapid installation of stricter emissions standards could force [automakers] to drastically cut production of larger, more profitable vehicles in a time of severe financial duress [The New York Times].
But Obama tried to place the moves in the context of his “green jobs” proposals, saying that the best way to revitalize the economy is to make the country a leader in green technology sectors like alternative energy and electric cars. The administration is not trying to burden struggling automakers, Obama said, “it is to help American automakers prepare for the future…. It will be the policy of my administration,” he said, “to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs” [USA Today].
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Image: flickr / respres