Obama Expected to Allow Stricter Auto-Emission Standards for California

On Monday, President Barack Obama is expected to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to quickly start work on granting California a long-contested waiver that will allow it to enforce stricter automobile-emission standards, The New York Times reported Sunday. (Update: Obama signed the executive order Monday morning.)

The move would effectively reverse a 2007 decision denying the waiver, and it would allow the Golden State – and 13 other states hoping to adopt the same standards – to force automakers to produce higher-mileage, lower-emission vehicles than are required by the federal standard.

Mary Nichols, who chairs the state’s Air Resources Board, last week said that the board had asked the EPA to reconsider its previous decision and predicted that the new administration would reverse the decision by late May.

The anticipated reversal is the latest twist in a battle that began in 2002, when California passed a law to cut vehicle emissions 30 percent by 2016. The federal Clean Air Act allows the state to set its own standards – although it needs a waiver from the agency – and allows other states to choose whether to follow the national standards or California’s.

Carmakers have aggressively opposed California’s efforts, arguing that a waiver would allow the state to set fuel-economy standards, which only the federal government is allowed to set, and increase costs. After a volley of lawsuits back and forth between the two sides, the EPA finally ruled on the waiver in December of 2007 – and denied it, leading to another lawsuit from California and other states.

In related news, Obama also is expected Monday to announce plans for stricter nationwide fuel-efficiency standards that former President George Bush enacted in 2007, but failed to implement before leaving office, as well as to direct federal departments and agencies to make government buildings more energy efficient, according to The New York Times.

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