President Obama is receiving kudos from environmentalists today and concern from the automotive industry after signing a directive for reconsideration of California’s request for a waiver from U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to establish stricter automobile emissions standards than required by the national government.
The same waiver was rejected by the Bush administration after heavy lobbying from automobile manufacturers and other national business associations on the grounds that there should only be one, national standard. California has historically been an environmental leader in many areas of regulatory reform, and at least 13 states have adopted California’s lead on requiring the sale of vehicles meeting the stricter emissions standards. Other states are interested in passing similar state legislation.
California began pursuing emissions, or “tail-pipe” standards in 2002 as a way of nudging the federal government, which did not have any such standard. US EPA was required to approve the California standard to allow enforcement but did not do so, prompting numerous lawsuits, which also slowed consideration. US EPA finally established a national standard, however, it was much lower than California’s proposed requirements for cars, SUVs, pick-up trucks and vans.
In signing the directive, President Obama has signaled his administration’s intent to aggressively regulate automotive greenhouse gas emissions and live up to a campaign promise to reduce U.S. oil dependency. The automobile industry was somewhat subdued in their response as reported by multiple media outlets yesterday, reiterating a commitment to work with the President to achieve environmental goals hopefully in one, acceptable national standard.
Environmental organizations, and others, including California’s Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in this part of the world also known as “The Governator”), believe the auto industry was not making good faith efforts in air quality and consumption initiatives. The hammer of regulatory authority certainly helps move initiatives further and faster in this area and probably will lead to California’s emissions standards becoming the national standard. While there is industry grumbling on this decision, it is hard to push too hard against the President’s action due to his popularity and the fact the US government has become an investor in the US auto industry through financial bailouts approved by Congress.
While this was an important environmental step leading to the implementation of the California emissions standards, it is also a good sign on another level. The President seems to be encouraging state and local governments to be innovators and leaders in policy development. It is good to see an issue like this and this early in the President’s tenure not be shoved immediately into a traditional tug-of-war on power and authority between federal and state governments.
The message that doing something is better than doing nothing is a good first environmental step for an environmental agenda, long dormant in the U.S.