Continuing efforts to overturn more of the last administration's policies, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum today requesting the EPA consider approving a waiver that will allow 14 states to set their own stricter automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards.
In 2007, then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California and Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and New Jersey -- the right to set their own clean air standards, despite staff scientists' recommendation to do so.
"California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st-century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead. But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way," Obama said.
Obama also signed a memorandum directing the Department of Transportation to expedite finalization of more fuel-efficient standards for the auto industry to cover 2011 model-year cars.
Last May, the Bush administration informally proposed increasing the standard to an average of 27.8 miles per gallon on average fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks for models 2011 through 2015, and Obama will likely increase that.
Flanked by Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Obama described U.S. dependence on oil as "one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced," comparing it to the dangers of dictators and terrorists.
"For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change," Obama said at the event held in the East Room of the White House. "We need more than the same old empty promises."
The final EPA decision could take several months, but it's a step toward allowing states more freedom in guiding their path to environment standards.
The president also pushed his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, saying that it would "save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75 percent of federal buildings more efficient."
Both of Obama's memoranda are written with cautious legalese and assiduous attention to process. But however soft they may seem, they are expected to lead to dramatic changes in environmental policy from the Bush administration.
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, designed to create more energy independence and security in the United States, ramp up production of clean renewable fuels and improve energy efficiency. But environmentalists criticized the Bush administration for not doing enough to follow through on these goals.
Obama's move today paves the way for states to eventually impose much stricter fuel emissions standards and for the federal government to require that U.S. automakers produce far more fuel-efficient cars and trucks much quicker than Bush would have required them to do so.
Given that these states -- especially California -- command a large market share, allowing states to set their own standards is likely to have a significant impact on the U.S. economy.
The reversal received a mixed reaction.
As expected, environmental groups hailed the announcement as a "thrilling moment," and one that will leave "behind our failed fossil fuel policies."