Obama tells EPA to review rejection of state emissions standards

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama took the first step Monday toward allowing California and 13 other states to implement tough new auto tailpipe emission standards, fulfilling a campaign pledge and reversing a controversial Bush administration decision.

The standards were first adopted by California but required a waiver to the Clean Air Act. Washington and the other states piggy-backed on the California standards. But in 2007 the Environmental Protection Agency refused to grant the waiver, arguing that it would result in a patchwork of state regulations and that national fuel-efficiency standards would be more effective.

The refusal to grant the waiver came over the objections of agency scientists and lawyers.

The EPA had never before rejected such a waiver request.

The EPA position echoed that of the auto industry, which said that if the waiver were granted it would have to start producing two different types of cars -- one to satisfy the stricter requirements of the 14 states and the other for the remaining states.

On Monday, Obama ordered the EPA to review the rejection of the waiver -- a move expected to eventually clear the way for states to set their own emissions standards.

"The federal government must work with, not against, the states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Obama said, less than a week after taking office. "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them."

Obama also directed his administration to accelerate development of new fuel-efficiency guidelines so 2011 model-year cars will be covered. In 2007, Congress required that new cars and trucks achieve a 35-mile-to-the gallon standard by 2020, a 40 percent increase over fuel-economy standards. The Bush administration had not developed regulations and estimated the new standards could cost the auto industry more than $100 billion to implement.

"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."

Washington state officials were pleased with Obama's action. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire urged the EPA to quickly grant the waiver. More than half of Washington state's air pollution comes from motor vehicles. The new standards require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks by 2016.

"It is past time to clean up auto emissions and do our part to reduce global warming and improve the health of our citizens," Gregoire said in a statement. "Making investments now to protect our health and environment will cost us far less in the long run."

Gregoire signed the Washington tailpipe standards into law in 2005. In December 2007, Washington joined California and the other states in suing EPA over it failure to grant the waiver.

Washington state's two senators, Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, also applauded Obama's action.

"For eight years, the Bush administration had its head in the sand when it came to tackling global warming, hamstringing states like Washington that understood the urgency of addressing the twin challenges of energy independence and climate change," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Murray noted Washington state has "long been ahead of the curve on both protecting our environment and reducing our carbon footprint. President Obama's announcement today is another step towards decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and preserving our environment for the future."