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Obama aims to reverse Bush policy on car emissions

Asks agencies to let states set tougher rules

By John M. Broder
New York Times / January 26, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama will direct federal regulators today to move swiftly on an application by California and at least 13 other states to set strict automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said yesterday evening.

The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and signifies a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.

Obama stopped short of ordering the agencies to reverse the Bush administration policy, but they are widely expected to do so.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.

Massachusetts is among the states that have adopted the California auto emissions standards, along with Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. At least four other states have pledged to do so.

Obama will use the announcement to bolster the impression of a sharp break from the Bush era on all fronts, after his decisions last week to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; tighten limits on interrogation tactics by Central Intelligence Agency officers; order plans to withdraw combat forces from Iraq; and reverse Bush's financing restrictions on groups that provide or discuss abortion overseas, administration officials said.

Beyond acting on the California emissions law, officials said, Obama will announce that he is moving forward with nationwide regulations requiring the automobile industry to increase fuel efficiency standards to comply with a 2007 law - rules that the Bush administration decided at the last minute not to issue.

He will also order federal departments and agencies to find new ways to save energy and be more environmentally friendly. And he will highlight the elements in his economic plan intended to create new jobs around renewable energy.

The centerpiece of today's anticipated announcement is Obama's directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work immediately on granting California a waiver, under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state to set standards for automobile emissions stricter than the national rules.

The Bush administration denied the waiver in late 2007, saying that recently enacted federal mileage rules made the action unnecessary and that allowing California and the 13 other states the right to set their own pollution rules would result in an unenforceable patchwork of environmental law.

The auto companies had advocated the denial, saying a waiver would require them to produce two sets of vehicles.

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