Commentary: Finally, movement on mileage

This editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee.

After less than a week in office, President Barack Obama has moved aggressively to wipe away one of the most noxious anti-environmental policies of the Bush administration. On Monday, the president ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to re-examine whether California and 13 other states should be allowed to impose tougher auto emission standards to combat global warming.

California clashed repeatedly with the Bush administration over this issue. The state approved a historic greenhouse gas control measure in 2007 that required cars sold in this state to reduce the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide they emitted. The new standards would force car manufacturers to reduce emissions by 30 percent in new cars and trucks sold in California by 2016.

Other states followed California's lead. But car manufacturers, with the backing of the Bush administration, sued, arguing in court that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant that could be regulated by the Clean Air Act. The courts backed California. Nonetheless, to impose the new, tougher regulations, California still needed a waiver from the federal EPA. Ignoring the advice of its agency scientists, the Bush administration consistently refused to grant it. By ordering a review of that decision, Obama made clear he's ready to change the policy.

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

Obama on Monday also ordered a speedup of new auto efficiency standards approved by Congress in 2007. The new rules would require new cars to achieve 35 miles per gallon on average beginning in 2020. Obama wants the guidelines to start affecting cars as early as 2011.

Bush administration officials had estimated it would cost the industry $100 billion to retool to meet the new standard. With two of the biggest car companies, General Motors and Chrysler, close to financial collapse, critics of the Obama orders say the companies cannot afford to comply.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.

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