Sunday night The New York Times published, “Obama to Let States Restrict Emissions Standards.” First reaction of those concerned only with a so-called economic recovery: “this will kill what’s left of the U.S. car industry!”

Wrong! This is exactly what the domestic car industry needs. No “car czar” or other federal regulator would be able to push as hard to get more fuel-efficient and lower-emissions vehicles produced in the U.S. faster than regulation-constrained market demand.

That $17 billion provided as emergency support to GM and Chrysler had no real strings on fuel efficiency and emissions attached. Anyone who thinks the U.S. manufacturers could continue to compete with European and Asian car makers whose products are more energy efficient and less polluting — and who are ahead of the domestic producers in their command of the new technologies — is dreaming.

We needed something to shake them up fast. This action by the Obama administration will do just that, without having to spend any of the new White House political capital on working new regulations through Congress.

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Quoting that Times article, the automakers claimed that allowing the 14 states to impose the California standard “would require them to produce two sets of vehicles, one to meet the strict California standard and another that could be sold in the remaining states.”

How stupid do they think we are? Or, how stupid are they? Why not produce one set of vehicles that meets the California standard with all their products? If they couldn’t make a profit producing vehicles to meet the stricter standards, then they could just abandon sales in those states. (They were doing that anyway, in effect, by not producing what the citizens of those states wanted, as expressed by their legislatures.)

So, perhaps the California standard will provide a needed kick-in-the-pants to the auto industry. It might hurt economic revitalization efforts in the core states of the U.S. auto industry, but it also is a potential boon to economic development efforts in urban centers across the nation.

Why? Simply because we have national air quality standards — many urban counties are in “non-attainment” status relative to the Clean Air Act. If their local vehicular emissions — often 40 percent or more of the emissions that violate particulate and ozone precursor standards — were to fall, then they might be able to attract manufacturing jobs that now go out of the country or into rural areas (causing new environmental and transportation problems there) back to the nation’s metropolitan centers, where the vast majority of our population lives.

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For most states, then, economic development may be stimulated by the stricter emissions standards pioneered by California and blocked by the Bush administration. That’s growing the green economy!

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