Obama to push for California waiver that mandates cut in auto CO2 emissions

Today Obama “will direct federal regulators to move swiftly to grant California and 13 other states the right to set strict automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards,” the NYT reports.

This is a key move that makes crystal clear, as I write in Salon today, that “Real science comes to Washington.” As the NYT notes:

Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions is one of the most dramatic actions Mr. Obama can take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy. The presidential orders will require automobile manufacturers to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule.

Kudos to Obama for this bold, quick action on greenhouse gas mitigation.

E&E Daily (subs. req’d) has much more on this story — and on Obama’s order that the Department of Transportation start drafting fuel economy standards to comply with the 2007 Energy Bill:

According to the White House, Obama will sign a memorandum instructing U.S. EPA to review his predecessor’s decision rejecting California’s request to enforce greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles.

Obama also will sign an order instructing the Transportation Department to finalize rules this spring that begin the first overhaul to the nation’s fuel economy requirements in more than three decades. The new president will also trumpet pieces of his economic recovery plan designed to create new jobs through greater use of renewable energy and improved electric transmission grids.

“The ceremony will include the first environment and energy actions taken by the president, helping our country move toward greater energy independence,” reads a White House invitation sent to supporters yesterday.

California has been pushing since 2002 for the federal EPA’s permission so it can enforce a law that would require automakers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles by 30 percent by 2016.

The Bush administration sat on the state’s request for four years before rejecting it last March, citing as legal justification the arrival of new federal automobile efficiency standards.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote Obama last week urging him to help quickly reverse the Bush-era EPA decision. And Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, filed a petition with the new Obama EPA suggesting it launch a “short supplemental comment period” before granting the state’s waiver request.

Under the Clean Air Act, California is the only state that can enforce its own standards — but only with an EPA waiver. Thirteen other states have moved to adopt California’s standards, and another three have indicated that they will follow if EPA grants the waiver. In all, the 17 states represent nearly half of the U.S. auto market.

Obama’s memo requests EPA begin the legal process to reconsider a denial of the waiver, including a new public comment period. Obama officials stressed that the memo does not order EPA to grant the waiver. And they caution that a final decision on whether to reverse the Bush administration’s decision could take several months.

Auto industry officials did not respond to requests for comment. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has long opposed California’s request, arguing it would force car makers to boost efficiency substantially above levels already established in federal law. Auto dealers last week also complained that it would not make sense to grant California’s request while the federal government is in the middle of extending billions in loans to keep General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC afloat.

Obama’s directive for the Transportation Department instructs it to meet an April 1 deadline that puts automakers on track to increase fuel economy standards across their fleets by an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress negotiated the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards in the 2007 energy bill. And DOT under Bush proposed the initial limits but could not complete the rules before Obama’s inauguration last week. Obama’s memo directs DOT to finish its CAFE standards for 2011 but then begin a separate rulemaking process for later years that considers a range of legal, scientific and technological issues.

Environmentalists welcomed word of Obama’s first moves on climate change and fuel economy.

“President Obama’s announcement responds to scientists’ warnings to slow greenhouse gas pollution now before it’s too late,” said Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “These new policies contrast with President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science. The fuel economy measures add to the clean energy investments in his economic recovery package. President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and fight global warming than George Bush did in two terms.”

“We’re thrilled,” added Karen Wayland, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This signals a new direction in energy and global warming policy. … We were hoping for great things with the administration, and we’re pleased that within the first week this is something we’re seeing.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also praised the decision. “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,” Boxer said in a statement.

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10 Responses to Obama to push for California waiver that mandates cut in auto CO2 emissions

  1. Greg N says:


    Presumably even Detroit will estimate what the toughest State target might be in ten years, and will plan vehicles that are guaranteed to meet it.

  2. jorleh says:

    I have always been suspicious of this guy A. Revkin.

  3. Kojiro Vance says:

    California didn’t require an EPA waiver. They could enforce their own “California CAFE” by limiting the registrations of certain vehicles, taxing gas guzzlers directly, or drastically raise the gasoline tax so that California drivers would be encouraged to purchase more efficient vehicles. They could do this NOW and lead by example. But that would have been politically unpopular.

    Instead they run to the EPA so that the politicians in CA won’t have to pay the political price and all Americans can share the burden for CA’s “greenness”. Truly a gutless ineffective political sham by the “progressives” in the Gold State.

    Besides, this won’t do ANYTHING to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a decade or more. Truly a gutless ineffective political sham by the “progressives” in the Gold State.

    There are plenty of fuel efficient vehicles available on the market today. It is just that Americans don’t want to buy them. The automakers have a number of good fuel efficient vehicles they could import (the Ford Ka comes to minde), but CAFE rules say they have to be made in America to satisfy the United Auto Workers.

  4. Kojiro Vance says:

    I repeated myself. Shouldn’t multitask and post at the same time.

    California gets its excercise by patting itself on the back about its per capita energy consumption. They did so in part by driving energy intensive manufacturing and heavy industry to other states through high energy prices and punitive regulations and taxation. Hardly an example for the rest of the country.

  5. Mark says:

    This is significant. The California economy is huge. Sweeping changes there tend to have a ripple effect as it forces manufacturers to make significant efficiency changes to their product lines. I recently read a good book on how environmental and efficiency mandates in California (particularly with refigerators) helped create revolutionary advancements at the national level.

    Now if the Obama Administration allows the EPA to declare CO2 a pollutant and halt construction of most new coal plants…

    On a different note, I recently read a nice presentation on cap and trade from Peter Orszag, recent CBO director and currently appointed by Obama to head the OMB. Any comments, Joe?

    In this presentation, Orszag argues for a system that is flexible (can vary from year to year as long as long-term goals are met (price floors for low cost years and ceilings for high cost years), which he argues can help lower costs without sacrificing emissions goals.

    Orszag argues for a lump-sum consumer rebate to remove the regressivity of any price increases. This needs to be emphasized since “your energy costs will go up” has and will become a talking point of the anti-regulation crowd.

    Lastly, he argues strongly against giving away allowances:

    “Selling allowances would allow policymakers to
    capture their value, which could help to lower
    overall economic costs and offset costs to
    low-income households”

    “Freely allocating allowances would be equivalent
    to selling them and distributing the revenues to

    Free allocations would not prevent price increases

    Free allocations to producers could create windfall profits”

    I think all of the above is a great rebuttal to many of the talking points brought forward by those against cap and trade.

  6. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    You can always improve the fuel ecomony of a vehicle by reducing its size and weight and by using small displacement engines. But who wants to ride in a dinky little tin can? Especially on a freeway where the big rigs whose wash when they fly by at 70-80 mph, will blow you right off the concrete into the ditch.

    The automakers have many of these tin cans on their lots. But are these selling like hot cakes? Nope! That’s because you American are so fat and overweight that you can’t fit into them! That why they buy big honkin’ SUV’s and pick-up trucks. They need vehicles with power and muscle to haul all that flab around.

    Americans buy cars as a fashon and prestige statements, and nothing ain’t ever going to change that. Young males by hot, fast cars to attract even hotter, faster young women and nothing ain’t ever going to change that either.

    If California passes these silly fuel standard laws, people will go out state and buy their cars. Or the will just hang on to their old ones until this nonsense blows over. Older and wiser car owners who no longer have any concern for fashion and hot, fast women know that with proper maintanence and service a car will last forever.

    My ’82 Merc Capri HB with a 3.3 L inline push rod 6 is running just fine and probably outlast me. Only I wish it had a 5.0 L V-8 SOHO!

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Ah, the fascination with automobilies.

    Better to organize your life so that none is necessary.

    Play being a driver on the local race track on off-days, if you can’t find something better to do with your time.

  8. Kojiro Vance says:

    Problem solved. I’ve found the perfect car. We can rebrand it the “California Traveler”. It is made from recycled materials, light in weight, gets 34 MPG, and perfectly fits the politics of California! Here it is:

  9. Cynthia says:

    I go from being pleasantly surprised and optimistic (after reading Joe Fromm’s posts) to feeling it’s all hopeless (after reading scientific literature and listening to videos). Guess it’s a race between our planet’s climate and humanity’s evolution!

  10. Cynthia says:

    Oops! Sorry! I meant Joe Romm.