Obama OKs new look at emissions rules

President Obama, with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, signs a series of executive orders on car emissions and fuel efficiency standards in the White House in Washington, D.C.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: As with all things regulatory, none of the changes President Obama talked about today are going to happen right away. But they are going to happen a lot faster than Detroit would like. The president ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to have another look at whether states have the right to set their own auto emission standards. And by "another look" you can infer that he'd like a different answer than the one the Bush administration came up with -- that was that states cannot set those standards.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


SAM EATON: President Obama says boosting car mileage "is one the most important steps to reduce dependence on foreign oil." And when California and at least a dozen other states tried to do just that, he says "Washington stood in their way." And that's about to change.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts. We will be guided by them.

But auto analysts say the economic facts can be tricky. California's bid to regulate auto emissions would force carmakers to achieve fleet-wide averages of 35 miles per gallon by 2016. That's four years ahead of the federal plan.

David Cole with the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan says that's impossible given an auto industry on the brink of collapse.

DAVID COLE: When you're looking at a hundred-plus billion dollars of capital investment, if the industry does not have some reasonably convincing arguments that the consumer's going to be there, they're just not going to make that investment. They're going to find another business to be in.

So far, the federal government has committed some $42 billion to helping the industry. But that doesn't rule out a protracted court battle over the state rules. Automakers' appeals are still pending in Vermont and California. But there's a way around that. The administration could push federal mileage standards that match, or even surpass, the tougher state proposals.

DAVID YARNOLD: The auto industry is already on the way to achieving this.

That's Environmental Defense Fund Director David Yarnold.

YARNOLD: There's no doubt that they can do it.

He says the technology exists. It's the will that's been in short supply.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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