President Obama has performed a bit of miracle work: getting California and the nation's automakers to agree on a set of fairly aggressive new pollution and fuel efficiency rules that ratchet up the U.S. commitment to addressing global warming.
The new rules, to be announced today, (according to various press accounts) will boost fuel economy standards ahead of the schedule set by Congress in 2007, resulting in the average car in 2016 getting 35.5 mpg. The new rules also adopt California's carbon dioxide emission limits, which had been disputed by the auto industry and the Bush Administration. The only difference is that automakers will be given more time to adopt the standards, which will apply nationwide instead of just in California and the dozen states that would have followed its lead had the Environmental Protection Agency granted it the permission it needed to adopt the rules, first set in 2004.
The move by the Obama Administration follows the EPA finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and the environment, and so can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. (See how carbon regulation may affect your next car.) But today's rulemaking does not use the Clean Air Act to achieve an estimated 40% reduction in pollution.
It does, however, represent another example of the Obama Administration's strong hand on the wheel of the U.S. auto industry. It would not be surprising to find that car makers had little choice but to accept this deal, given that both General Motors and Chrysler have relied on taxpayer loans to stay afloat.
In any case, it shows that Obama is being much more progressive than Congress when looking at the future of the auto industry. The cash for clunkers bill Congress is working on rewards people for buying trucks that get as little as 15 mpg.
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