President Barack Obama is moving swiftly to scuttle yet another Bush administration policy — one that had upset environmentalists, who frequently contended that President George W. Bush had one of the worst environmental records of any modern U.S. President:
President Obama on Monday will direct federal regulators to move swiftly to grant California and 13 other states the right to set strict automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday evening.
The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and marks a sharp reversal from Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions is one of the most dramatic actions Mr. Obama can take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.
The presidential orders will require automobile manufacturers to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies had lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.
What seems to taking shape in his first days in office is this: Obama is doing some highly symbolic acts that are to the Bush administration what Ronald Reagan’s acts upon taking office were to the Carter administration. Reagan basically signaled to the world that he would undo parts of the New Deal and Great Society. Obama is signaling his plan to undo some of the conservative policies that were part of the Bush administration.
The Washington Post fleshes out the significance of the move:
The move, which the White House has privately trumpeted to supporters as “the first environment and energy actions taken by the president, helping our country move toward greater energy independence,” could reverse two Bush-era decisions that have helped shape the nation’s climate policy and its auto market.
Obama will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to regulate automobile tailpipe emissions linked to global warming, sources said, and he will order the Transportation Department to issue guidelines that will ensure that the nation’s auto fleet reaches an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, if not earlier.
….Daniel J. Weiss, who directs climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, praised the new administration for pressing ahead with ambitious fuel economy goals.
“President Obama’s actions will reduce our oil dependence by speeding the production of the gas-sipping cars of the future,” Weiss said. “He understands that oil and gasoline prices will rise with our recovering economy, and more fuel-efficient cars will help families cope with higher prices. And other countries will want to buy our more-efficient vehicles.”
Officials at General Motors and Ford said they were not aware of what the announcement would be. The White House declined to discuss the president’s planned energy announcement.
Pro-environment groups were aghast during the Bush administration at what they felt was a major depature from in past administrations’ environmental norms and values. Bush’s supporters insisted his record was good. But environmental groups argued otherwise. (See here, here, here, here and here for a start).
SOME OTHER COMMENTS ABOUT THIS DEVELOPMENT:
Around Wednesday of last week I got myself into a funk about the daunting politics of getting the environmental policy we need. This is a welcome reminder of how important it is just not to have an administration that tries as hard as it can to make things as bad as possible.
President Barack Obama may be in favor of change — but apparently not when it comes to the climate. Less than a week into his presidency, Team Obama will reverse a controversial, Dick Cheney-fueled decision of the Bush White House and allow states to curb greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles…
….I’m sure opponents will take either two routes, which is to say 1) These laws were enacted before the Great Recession changed everything, but that ignores the evidence that cleaner cars will actually be good for the economy on a number of levels or 2) “Ha, ha — global warming? It’s 20 degrees out!,” which is too ridiculous to even dignify with a response. This was a change that Obama promised, and for the American majority that wants to see action on climate change, it’s a breath of fresh air.
This is a big win for the environmentalists. The effect is that California will be able to set high standards, forcing auto manufacturers to meet those standards if they want to do business in California (which they do).This effectively gives California control over the nations emissions and efficiency standards. A definite win for Obama’s promise to make the environment a major issue of his administration
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.