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In a marked break from his predecessor, President Barack Obama will today direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve requests made by California and 13 other states to establish strict new auto emission and fuel efficiency (i.e. CAFE) standards, reports the NYT's John M. Broder and Peter Baker. The president will also instruct the agency to begin enforcing a 2007 national fuel efficiency standard law that the Bush administration refused to act on.
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Obama decision would reverse Bush EPA policy
This is a huge win for California, which had been tussling with Stephen L. Johnson, the former EPA head under the Bush administration, over the right to set its own emissions standards since late 2007--even taking him to court early in 2008.
California's waiver would have required carmakers to slash vehicle emissions by almost a third by 2016 (increasing the fuel efficiency of the car and light truck fleet to 36 mpg), 4 years ahead of the federal deadline; it was meant to take effect in the 2009 model year.
California not alone: 13 other states on board
Thirteen other states, including New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and Pennsylvania, joined California's request at the time. Three have since made clear that they plan on adopting California's plan if it is approved by the Obama administration. During her confirmation hearing last week, (likely) incoming EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said that she would "aggressively" review California's application. (Seeing as how the EPA has regularly approved such waivers for California in the past, there's little reason to believe she won't.)
At the time that he denied the waiver (acting against the better advice of his staff, which had strongly urged him to grant it), Johnson claimed that California's law was unnecessary because of the recently enacted energy bill, which would do more to mitigate climate change than "a confusing patchwork of state rules"--this despite the fact that 13 other states, representing about half of the country's drivers, were also on board with the plan.
Legal challenges imminent, but rules expected to pass
Even if approved, the new standards won't take effect immediately; there will be a period for review and public comment, and it is very likely that several of the big auto companies will challenge it in court, despite having failed to make inroads in the past.
More about California's auto emissions waiver
E.P.A.'s Math "Faulty", Changes its Story on California Waiver Denial
EPA Rejects California's Auto Emissions Waiver