Muckraker: Grist on Politics

President Barack Obama on Monday will direct federal regulators to move quickly on a waiver request from California and 13 other states that want to set higher fuel-economy standards for vehicles, according to a New York Times report citing two administration sources.

The Bush administration denied California’s request for a waiver in December 2007, despite evidence that the majority of the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientists supported the petition. Bush’s EPA head argued that it would result in an unenforceable patchwork of laws around the country.

Obama had promised to reverse the Bush decision during last year’s campaign, and on Jan. 21, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols sent letters to the new administration asking them to follow through. In her confirmation hearing, new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson indicated that she would reconsider their request.

The New York Times also reports that Obama will direct the Department of Transportation to begin drafting new national automobile fuel-economy regulations in compliance with the December 2007 energy bill. He is also planning to call on federal agencies to begin making government buildings more energy efficient, according to the Times.

The Washington Post also has the story, reporting that White House officials “privately trumpeted [the emissions move] to supporters as ‘the first environment and energy actions taken by the President, helping our country move toward greater energy independence.’”

While the Times says Obama’s decision will result in quick approval for California emissions waiver, the Post‘s story has a more conditional tone, saying only that the president has ordered the EPA “to reexamine two policies that could force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars which yield fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”

UPDATE: Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued this statement Sunday night praising the move: “As Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I will be working with the new EPA Administrator to ensure that the California waiver moves forward as fast as possible. When the waiver is signed, it will be a signal to Detroit that a huge market awaits them if they do the right thing and produce the cleanest, most efficient vehicles possible.”

UPDATE: And this from Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope: “This action deserves the loudest applause. President Obama is making good on campaign promises and sending yet another clear signal that global warming and a clean energy economy are top priorities for his administration. By beginning this process and directing EPA to review the Bush administration’s lack of action, President Obama is turning the Federal Government into a force for positive change instead of a roadblock.”