New Federal Fuel-Efficiency Rules Limit State Input

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A little-noticed provision in new federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks makes it much harder for states to set their own levels for how many miles per gallon vehicles should achieve.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced new fuel standards for SUVs and light trucks on Wednesday. He called them very ambitious. What he didn't mention is that deep in the 371-page rule on the new fuel standards is a nasty surprise for a quarter of the states. The Bush Administrations makes it very clear that it will block the states from pursuing more ambitious standards of their own to cut greenhouse gases. And there's another twist: the Environmental Protection Agency seems to be out of the loop on the new regulations.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren is with us now, and Elizabeth, what are these state rules that the Federal Government is trying to block?


Two years ago California passed rules that would slash greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The governors, both Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Gray Davis before him, approved of this, as did the legislature. And these efforts are kind of key to the state's efforts to fight climate change. After they did this, 10 other states have joined in, in the North East and in the North West. They decided they want to do this, too. The states are trying to do something to fight climate change.

BLOCK: And what reason has the Federal Government given for trying to block the states from doing that?

SHOGREN: Well, what the federal government says, and they say it at length in this rule, 51 pages of this rule are dedicated to their explanation for why this is wrong. They say that these are the equivalent to a fuel efficiency standard. And the federal government alone has a right to set fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

California argues that these are pollution standards and that it has special permission under the Clean Air Act to set pollution standards.

BLOCK: If this is coming from the Department of Transportation, what does the EPA have to say? We've said they were out of the loop, but have they, but…

SHOGREN: Well, it's very confusing because the EPA says it's still going on with its process. What the EPA has to do is give California a waiver to set these new rules, or to enforce these new rules, and to give the other states a right to enforce the new rules, too. And EPA says it's still considering the petition that California put before it.

So it's confusing and the spokesman from EPA told me today that he didn't really know about this part of the Transportation Department rule and suggested that maybe this is beginning of some kind of interagency warfare over who gets a say over this.

BLOCK: Has there been reaction from the auto industry?

SHOGREN: Well the auto industry likes the Transportation Department's rule very much. It doesn't like the California rules at all. It's been fighting them in courts. It makes basically the same argument that the Bush Administration makes, which is that only the Federal Government can set fuel economy rules. The reason they say that these rules are actually fuel economy rules is that you use some of the same technologies to get rid of the greenhouse gases that you use to improve fuel economy.

BLOCK: Well where does this leave the states that have these standards and that Department of Transportation is saying, no, you can't do this?

SHOGREN: Well, California Attorney General, Bill Lockyer says he's going to fight as much as he can to keep California's rules on the books. He says that he believes in them and that the state believes in them, and they're going to pursue them. That's what the other states say as well. This is very important to their efforts to fight greenhouse gasses.

And they accuse the Bush Administration of sticking its head in the sand about climate change. And they say that the Bush Administration is also just giving a big gift to the auto industry, which doesn't like the rule.

BLOCK: NPR's Elizabeth Shogren, thanks very much.

SHOGREN: Thank you.

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