President Obama Reverses Course on CA Auto Emission Waiver

President Obama Reverses Course on CA Auto Emission Waiver

January 26, 2009 15:20

Less than a week after President Obama's Inauguration, he issued a Presidential Memorandum Monday that reversed course on one aspect of the federal government's climate policy.

In December, 2007, then-President Bush signed into law a bill on energy security that also directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to increase the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for new motor vehicle emission exhaust.  Immediately thereafter, Stephen Johnson, then administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, issued a decision denying California's long-standing request for a waiver that would have allowed the state to mandate that automobile manufacturers comply with greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new automobiles that are more-stringent than existing federal standards.  Johnson and Bush argued then that the federal government needed to coordinate climate policy and that a patchwork of state actions would be harmful to U.S. interests.

While California is the only state pursuant to federal law that, with a waiver, can regulate new vehicle emissions more stringently than the federal government, federal law also allows other states to adopt the California standard.  Thirteen other states, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are among the states that have for years been poised to adopt the California standard for GHGs once California obtains a waiver. 

Environmentalists and California state officials had hoped that the April, 2007 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA (which held that the EPA was required under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHGs emissions from new automobiles unless it can determine that GHGs pose no danger to human health and the environment) would pave the way for the EPA to approve California's waiver request.  The December, 2007, action of the Bush Administration, however, blocked the state's initiative.

Obama announced the opposite view Monday: "The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce [GHG] emissions. California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead. But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way. This refusal to lead risks the creation of a confusing and patchwork set of standards that hurts the environment and the auto industry.

"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over.  My administration will not deny facts, we will be guided by them.  We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states.  And that's why I'm directing the [EPA] to immediately review the denial of the California waiver request and determine the best way forward.  This will help us create incentives to develop new energy that will make us less dependent on oil that endangers our security, our economy, and our planet."

Obama explained that his administration's goal is not to further burden an already struggling auto industry, but rather to help America's automakers prepare for the future, and that the federal government is now committed to helping the auto industry to thrive by "building the cars of tomorrow, and galvanizing a dynamic and viable industry for decades to come."

For a copy of Obama's full statement on the California waiver issue and his separate directive to the DOT to move more quickly in updating the CAFE standards, click on this link to the White House web site:

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