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 January 26, 2009
New Life for California Fuel Standards

 True to his campaign promises, U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-examine California’s plan to impose tough auto emission standards as a means to force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars.

Obama signed an Executive Order today directing the EPA to re-examine whether California and other states should be allowed to impose tough auto emission standards to combat the growing problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

"For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change," Obama said in his first formal event in the ornate East Room of the White House. "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."

California and other states previously sought to impose emission standards that were tougher than those imposed by the federal government. In the past, "Washington stood in their way," said the President, who now wants the EPA to look again at the decisions that denied states the right to set tougher tailpipe emission standards.

So far, 13 other states - Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington - have signaled their desire to adopt California’s standards.

In Canada, British Columbia joined California’s court challenge of the Environmental Protection Agency refusal to allow the state’s new vehicle emission standards. The Province of Quebec has already said it will adopt the California standard.

"Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve chosen delay over decisive action," Obama said. "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 U.S. Clean Air Act gives California authority to regulate vehicle pollution because the state began such regulation before the federal act passed. But a federal waiver is still required, which if granted would allow other states to adopt either California’s standards or existing or new federal standards.

The EPA under President George W. Bush administration denied California’s waiver request in 2007, which led to a storm of lawsuits from environmental groups and others arguing - with some justification - that the denial was more political than scientific.

The Obama decision does not change anything yet, but it is a clear signal that the winds of change are blowing in the U.S. energy sector.

"The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Obama said. He added: "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them."

The California standards would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016 and to boost fuel efficiency in new vehicles to about 36.8 miles per gallon.

Automakers argued uneven state-level standards would force dealers in some states to limit sales of certain cars and trucks. They have pushed for a single national standard. At a time when the auto industry in America is on life support through federal financial assistance, the billions of dollars in new costs required to meet the new rules may prove too onerous.

"Let me be clear: Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry," Obama said. "It is to help America’s automakers prepare for the future."

"We must ensure that the fuel efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America," Obama added. "Going forward, my administration will work on a bipartisan basis in Washington and with industry partners across the country to forge a comprehensive approach that makes our economy stronger and our nation more secure."

General Motors Corp. has signaled it is willing to work with the Obama Administration.  "We’re ready to engage the Obama administration and Congress on policies that support meaningful and workable solutions and targets," the company said in a statement.

For More Information: Reuters