States may gain power over emissions standards |

States may gain power over emissions standards

WASHINGTON ” President Barack Obama is ready to give states more leeway to curb emissions from cars and to get the federal government moving on fuel-efficiency standards that could remake the auto industry.

Obama is poised to announce his plans later Monday at the White House, say officials familiar with the details who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the president.

The attention to energy comes as Obama heads into his first full week as president, with an agenda dominated by economic woes and a push to get a huge stimulus plan through Congress.

In one key move, Obama is aiming to let California and other states set their own tailpipe emission standards ” without having to get a waiver from the Environmental Protection Administration, as has been the case. The policy change would furnish another alternative for reducing greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming. It also would reverse a Bush era policy that put up legal obstacles to California’s go-it-alone stance.

And in another policy change, Obama is likely to order the Transportation Department to enact short-term rules on how automakers can improve the fuel efficiency of their new models.

A spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner called the announcement poorly timed and ill-conceived.

“Our nation’s automakers are struggling ” drastically restructuring and shedding jobs just to stay afloat,” said Antonia Ferrier, press secretary to the Ohio Republican. “And now they are being forced to spend billions of dollars to comply with California’s emissions standards, instead of using that money to save American jobs.”

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler and others, said industry executives were awaiting details but that they support “an approach that bridges federal and state concerns about fuel economy and CO2.”

On car emissions, the Clean Air Act gives California special authority to regulate vehicle pollution because the state began regulating such pollution before the federal government did. But a federal waiver is still required; if the waiver is granted, other states can choose to adopt California’s standards or the federal ones.

But in 2007 the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency denied California’s request, gaining praise from the auto industry but touching off a storm of investigations and lawsuits from Democrats and environmental groups who contended the denial was based on political instead of scientific reasons.

California’s proposed restrictions would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.

At least 13 other states ” Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington ” have already adopted California’s standards, and they have been under consideration elsewhere, too.

Last week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, sent a letter to Obama asking him to give California and other states permission to implement the tough tailpipe-emission standards. Schwarzenegger said Obama “has a unique opportunity to both support the pioneering leadership of these states and move America toward global leadership on addressing climate change.”

Obama will direct EPA regulators to re-examine California’s case. The formal process will take time but is expected to end up in the states’ favor. The Bush administration had rejected the request on grounds that a national fuel-efficiency strategy would work better ” the same position the auto industry took.

“Reports of President Obama’s decision to revisit the outrageous denial of the California waiver by the Bush Administration are more than welcome news,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a written statement released Sunday night. “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.”

Automakers contended it would be unfeasible to have to design cars to what they termed “a patchwork” of different standards around the country.

As a candidate for president, Obama pledged to overturn the EPA’s denial, which marked the first time the U.S. had fully denied California a pollution control waiver under the Clean Air Act, after many previous approvals.

“By beginning this process and directing EPA to review the Bush administration’s lack of action, President Obama is turning the federal government into a force for positive change instead of a roadblock,” said the Sierra Club’s executive director, Carl Pope.

Obama is also expected to order new guidelines on fuel economy. 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. But the Bush administration did not set regulations in support of that law.

The president on Monday is also expected to tout proposals that he says would boost clean energy supplies while also producing badly needed jobs in so-called “green” industries.

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