When gas prices were at an all time high, there was a lot of attention put on fuel economy standards for cars and trucks sold in the United States. States were regulated nationally by CAFE standards, and states were not allowed to set their own standards.
Some states griped about being unable to set stricter standards. California was among these states, and led by its Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, it went as far as to sue the national government to try to earn the right for his state to regulate its own fuel economy.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wrote personally to the new President, Barack Obama, asking that he swiftly act to reverse the current standards. The move was almost unanimously supported by Environmental Protection Agency lawyers and scientists, who were overruled by the EPA director, Stephen L. Johnson.
Today, President Obama is expected to hear these requests and order that states be allowed to set their own fuel standards according to the New York Times, a move lauded by many Republicans and Democrats in state government. In total, 14 states have proposals for stricter standards and President Obama's order to federal regulators should allow them to soon set them.
The move is perhaps the biggest environmental policy decision yet for the young Obama administration and a clear sign of shifting policy. It also marks President Obama making good on a significant campaign promise.
There still is a slight possibility that some states could have their requests rejected. The executive order calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the state applications and suggests that they give states the freedom to regulate their own fuel economy. However, it stops short of demanding they do so.
The turn of events is a great loss for the domestic auto industry, which has heavily lobbied against the measure. If passed, higher state standards would force the auto makers to ramp up production of more efficient vehicles faster than planned. This would mean major retooling at a time when money is already extremely tight.
For those states that choose not to regulate their own fuel economy, President Obama will push for enforcement of the existing national fuel economy laws. The 2007 law was signed by President Bush, but at the end of his presidency, he stopped short of issuing an executive order to demand it be enforced. President Obama will be signing an enforcement order that will force the increased standards to be met by 2011 production vehicles. After 2011, experts will convene to come up with a revised set of standards for the next several years, based on the scientific and economic climate.
Currently, American cars have an average fuel economy of 27 MPG. The higher Californian standards would call for 35 MPG economy by 2016, four years ahead of the national target. Among the other states joining California are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington.
Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress in Washington praises the move stating, "This is a complete reversal of President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science. With the fuel economy measures and clean energy investments in the recovery package, President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and global warming than George Bush did in eight years."
Some are not so cheerful about giving states the right to choose their own standards, though. Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, argues that domestic auto makers will be unable to cope with higher emissions standards. He states, "Applying California standards to several different states would create a complex, confusing and very difficult situation for manufacturers."
The new state regulations will likely be approved in several months after a thorough legal review.