Obama initially announced his decision to merge new CAFE rulemaking with California's efforts to impose its own emissions standards in May. At the time, he was joined at the White House by top executives from 10 major automakers, including the heads of GM and Chrysler LLC. The government now controls ownership stakes in both companies.
The following month, EPA granted California the waiver it needed under the Clean Air Act to enforce its own standards, in a move that was considered mostly moot given the national standards. Now that California has been granted the waiver, other states will be allowed to enforce the same tailpipe standard. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have already moved to adopt the California's standards, and a handful of others have indicated they may follow.
The auto industry had long challenged California's attempt to regulate tailpipe emissions, arguing that it would create a "regulatory patchwork" that would depress overall sales and put some dealers at a competitive disadvantage. Carmakers and dealers argued that because consumers buy vehicles in different quantities in different states, automakers' fleetwide greenhouse gas averages would vary by state, forcing manufacturers to manipulate the amount of each model they make available in each state.
The litigation was unsuccessful in federal courts, and the industry agreed to drop its legal challenges as part of the compromise that led to the new federal auto standards. But last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Automobile Dealers Association filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the decision.
The vehicle emissions rules can go into effect only after EPA has finalized its proposed "endangerment finding," released in April, that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health and welfare. Today's announcement does not finalize that finding, according to a senior EPA official. That decision is expected by next spring but could come much sooner as the Senate dives deeper into legislation that caps emissions.
Road to Copenhagen
The transportation announcement adds another pillar to an Obama administration climate portfolio already under the international microscope. Obama officials are trying to compile a domestic record of accomplishments as they head into U.N. climate negotiations with more than 180 other countries where U.S. leadership is seen as critical to writing a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
State Department climate envoy Todd Stern told reporters last week that he hoped to have a final cap-and-trade law in place by the December talks in Copenhagen. But short of that, Stern said the United States would still be in a good negotiation position based on the existing legislative and regulatory landscape. "If legislation is moving on a good track that isn't passed yet, there will undoubtedly be ways to try and accommodate that," he said.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said today's announcement would also help send a message to the international community, while still assuring Americans that Obama is viewing environmental decisions through an economic lens.
"The administration, moving forward today through its executive administrative capacity, is a very important component of sending a message to people that we're going to do this across the economy in ways that make sense," Kerry said. "I welcome it. It's long overdue."
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500