Obama, The EPA, And The Sin Of Emissions

January 26, 2009

President Obama made a number of campaign promises on the run-up to election day, and he's already acted on several of them. Today it appears he's adding another to the list--namely, his vow to address auto emissions and states' rights to set higher standards than those of the federal government.

In the East Room of the White House, Obama will discuss several initiatives--including his $825 billion stimulus package--but the topic of most interest to automakers, dealers, and car buyers will concern his implicit reversal of a Bush policy that denied California and other states the right to set higher emissions and fuel efficiency standards than mandated by federal law. Specifically, Obama is going to ask the EPA to review California's appeal of the Bush policy ASAP. If all goes according to plan, the formal review will take a couple of months, with the policy instituted shortly thereafter, likely affecting cars and light trucks manufactured for the 2011 model year.

Obviously, automakers aren't happy about this development. They're arguing that a patchwork of regulations will make production and distribution more complex and costly than if manufacturers were held to one nationwide standard. And as logical as that may seem, precedent shows that they've been dealing with different standards in California for the past 4o years. To ease their burden, it appears that Obama is hoping to create just two sets of regulations--one for California, and one for the rest of the country. The other 12 states seeking to set higher standards than the federal levels would have the option of instituting California's plan, rather than their own version. Technically, automakers could challenge the EPA (and the Governator) in court, but their track record on that front ain't so great.

So: does this spell more gloom and doom for the auto industry? Or is it forcing them to evolve more quickly? Would they boost standards on their own? Or do they need a cattle prod to the posterior? And could new, cleaner cars encourage more people to buy? Feel free to weigh in below...

[source: NYTimes]

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