Pres. Obama: His first environmentalist move

A Green-Thinking President Makes His First Move

Barack Obama has been talking about the need for higher fuel-economy standards for the past five years. And now Detroit can see that he means it.

On Monday, President Obama is expected to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a waiver requested by California and 13 other states allowing them to set stricter standards on emissions than federal requirements.

The primary way to control emissions is through fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. If those states are allowed by the E.P.A. to enact stricter emissions standards, the result will be fuel-economy standards tighter than the requirements enacted by Congress in late 2007.

Even before the action was official, environmental groups were already applauding the new president. “These are monumental decisions that will have an immediate impact in reducing global warming pollution in the United States,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Sunday night. “Just days into office, President Obama is showing America and the world that he will lead our country in a bold new direction to protect the environment and fight global warming.”

That prospect could not be worse for Detroit carmakers, which are struggling with sharply lower sales and a freeze on credit that forced two companies, General Motors and Chrysler, to seek billions of dollars in federal assistance.

But in retrospect, the president’s action is no surprise: the only question was how quickly he would move to on the waivers, which the Bush administration refused in December 2007 to allow. That administration’s move came only days after Congress approved and former President Bush signed legislation raising the corporate average fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

A law enacted by California, which was originally meant to take effect in the 2009 model year, requires automakers to cut emissions by nearly a third by 2016, four years ahead of the federal timetable. That would have resulted in a fuel-economy average of 36 m.p.g.

Back then, the Bush Administration’s action was seen by environmentalists and industry analysts as something of a consolation prize to the industry, which fought hard earlier in 2007 against higher fuel-economy standards like the ones backed by then-Senator Obama.

Since coming to Washington, Mr. Obama had called for fuel-economy standards to rise to about 40 m.p.g., arguing that other countries had similar standards. He discussed his philosophy on fuel economy in his best-selling book, “The Audacity of Hope,” and in a speech in May 2007 before the Economic Club of Detroit.

Now it will be up to Congress and the Obama administration to sort out what to do on the fuel-economy regulations passed barely 14 months ago. The Bush administration did not enact the rules needed to implement those standards, leaving the decision to Mr. Obama’s E.P.A.

Whether he wants the country to have one set of standards for 14 states, and another governing the other 36 states remains to be seen. But at least it’s clear that the issue was in the front of his mind.

SOURCE: The NY Times, a-green-thinking-president-makes-his-first-move


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