Monday, 18 May 2009

U.S. to Issue Tougher Fuel Standards for Automobiles

WASHINGTON —The Obama administration will issue new national emissions and mileage requirements for cars and light trucks to resolve a long-running conflict among the states, the federal government and auto manufacturers, industry officials said Monday.President Obama will announce as early as Tuesday that he will combine California’s tough new auto-emissions rules with the existing corporate average fuel economy standard to create a single new national standard, the officials said. As a result, cars and light trucks sold in the United States will be roughly 30 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016.

The White House would not divulge details, but environmental advocates and industry officials briefed on the program said that the president would grant California’s longstanding request that its tailpipe emissions standards be imposed nationally. That request was denied by the Bush administration but has been under review by top Obama administration officials since January.advocates and industry officials briefed on the program said that the president would grant California’s longstanding request that its tailpipe emissions standards be imposed nationally. That request was denied by the Bush administration but has been under review by top Obama administration officials since January.

But Mr. Obama is planning to go further, putting in place new fuel economy rules that will combine the standards of California’s emissions law with the corporate average fuel economy program administered by the Department of Transportation. The effect will be a single national mileage rule that matches California’s strictest-in-the-nation standard.

Under the new standard, the national fleet mileage rule for cars would be roughly 42 miles a gallon in 2016. Light trucks would have to meet a fleet average of slightly more than 26.2 miles a gallon by 2016.

“This is a very big deal,” said Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, a group that has pushed for tougher mileage and emissions standards with the goal of curbing the heat-trapping gases that have been linked to global warming. “This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Industry officials spoke on condition of anonymity about the program because they said they did not want to comment publicly in advance of the White House announcement.

The current standards are 27.5 miles a gallon for cars and about 24 miles a gallon for trucks. The new mileage and emissions rules will gradually tighten, beginning with 2011 models, until they reach the 2016 standards.

The auto industry is not expected to challenge the rule, which provides two things they have long asked for: certainty on a timetable and a single national standard.

The administration has been under a self-imposed June 30 deadline to decide whether to grant California’s application to impose new emissions rules. President Obama became personally involved in the issue because he is also trying to find a way to rescue the American automobile companies from their financial crisis.

One top industry official said the administration wanted to get the new mileage rules in place before General Motors makes a decision on a bankruptcy filing, which could happen by the end of the month.

The new rules also provide some certainty for Chrysler, which is already under bankruptcy protection, so that it can plan its future models.

Mr. Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency in January to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. The president also instructed the Transportation Department to draw up rules to supplement a 2007 law requiring a 40 percent improvement in gas mileage for autos and light trucks by 2020.

The Bush administration failed to write any regulations to enforce the 2007 law.

Daniel J. Weiss, an environmental policy analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, said that under the White House plan, California would retain the ability to set its own emissions standards in the future when the current program expires.

He also said that the new administration program was very close in language and intent to a provision in the climate change and energy bill now before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That bill calls for a "harmonization" of the California and federal regulatory programs to provide a nationwide standard.

He said the standards were being written so that the car companies would already be on track to meet the standards set in the first few years of the program. The cars and trucks that will be sold in that period are already in the design phase. But starting in 2013 and 2014, the new rules will begin to bite, Mr. Weiss said.

"The rubber really meets the road in 2014," he said.

Mr. Obama has been thinking about the future of the American automobile industry for years. In 2006, during his second year as a United States senator, he co-sponsored a bill to raise fuel economy standards and another to encourage the use of alternative fuels.

During the presidential campaign, he gave a speech in Detroit chastising the American automobile industry for doing too little to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and to improve the vehicles’ fuel efficiency.

"The auto industry’s refusal to act for so long has left it mired in a predicament for which there is no easy way out," Mr. Obama said.

That inaction has brought General Motors and Chrysler to their current dire state, requiring billions in federal bailouts and Chrysler’s forced marriage to Fiat to survive.
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