Obama Plans to Overhaul Environmental Policies

January 26, 2009

WASHINGTON (ChattahBox) — President Barack Obama has plunged into energy and climate change policies today, moving to give states a freer hand in curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and to enact tighter fuel-efficiency standards that could remake the auto industry.

He also ordered the Transportation Department to enact short-term rules on how automakers can improve fuel efficiency of their new models based on a 2007 law. The law requires that by 2020, new cars and trucks meet a standard of 35 miles per gallon, a 40 percent increase over the status quo.

“Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve chosen delay over decisive action,” Obama said In remarks at the White House at the start of his second week in office. “Rigid ideology has overruled sound science. Special interests have overshadowed common sense. Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results — and our leaders raise their voices each time there’s a spike on gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.”

The moves are aimed at reversing decisions by 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 Bush administration did not set regulations in support of that law. And it estimated the rules would cost the industry more than $100 billion to implement the changes by 2020.  The Environmental Protection Agency last year denied California’s request to put its law into effect. Fourteen other states are poised to copy California’s rule once it goes into effect, while a few others have expressed some interest in doing the same.

The auto industry, in Detroit and overseas, has been united in its opposition to the California rules, saying they would force expensive changes and create a state-by-state limit on vehicle sales. The industry has lost every legal challenge to the rules so far.

Obama said the administration would ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built in the United States and would start by implementing new fuel efficiency standards for the 2011 model year.

Obama stressed that his goal is to work with carmakers on key administration goals: energy independence and combating global warming.

Obama said he expected his administration to have the standards for 2011 cars ready by March, thus giving the auto industry 18 months to prepare. He called his directive a “down payment” on vehicles that get much better fuel efficiency.

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce the appointment of a climate change envoy on Monday.

The job is expected to go to Todd Stern, who served in a variety of positions during the Clinton Administration, including the senior White House representative at the Kyoto negotiations.


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