Obama Asks EPA To Review Car Emission Rules

President Obama is directing the Environmental Protection Agency to re-examine whether California and other states should be allowed to have tougher auto emission standards. The Bush administration had blocked the states from enforcing strict fuel emission standards.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

President Obama offered an early look at his environmental and energy policy this morning.

President BARACK OBAMA: The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts. We will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states.

WERTHEIMER: President Obama speaking at the White House. The president said he is directing the Environmental Protection Agency to review a decision by the Bush administration that blocked California and other states from enforcing strict fuel emission standards. Joining us now is NPR environmental correspondent Elizabeth Shogren. Elizabeth, what does California want to do? And how big a deal would it be?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: California wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016. Lots of other states want to follow it. Already, 13 other states have adopted this plan and others say they would if it gets approved. And what this would do is it would cut greenhouse gas emissions about twice as much as the new tougher federal fuel economy standards would. And those are expected to be put into place pretty soon.

WERTHEIMER: And that affects cars because you have to have, like, more miles to the gallon cars.

SHOGREN: Exactly. Cars would have to go farther on a gallon of gas and they would also have other changes to them to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that they would emit from their tailpipes.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the president talked about this as part of a broader clean energy strategy. What else is he planning to include?

SHOGREN: Yes, he did. He talked about things that he hopes to do as part of the stimulus package. They include doubling the capacity of alternative energy like wind and solar, putting in new transmission lines that would carry this alternative energy to the power plants where it's needed. He would also make 75 percent of federal buildings more energy efficient and help Americans as they make their homes more energy efficient. Two million, he said.

WERTHEIMER: And any reaction from the auto industry about their share of this improvement in the air quality?

SHOGREN: Well, the auto industry - the carmakers have fought this every step of the way. They've been in federal court and in state courts trying to prevent California from implementing these new standards. They don't like this at all. However, they're a bit softer now with President Obama in office. Today they were saying that they were glad that he didn't say that he would in fact grant this request of California's. He's just said that he would reconsider it. And they also said that maybe there was a way to move ahead together all as one nation to cut fuel use and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe there's a nice easy way to do this.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Obama also said that these decisions that he will make are part of his national security strategy.

SHOGREN: Yes, he did. He said that this is part of trying to wean America from its dependence on foreign oil, which he says we get more than half of our oil from foreign sources. He said just by following what Congress wants us to do and not even what California's talking about, we would save over two million barrels of oil. That's nearly as much as we get from the Persian Gulf. He also says its part of his plan to lessen the impact of climate change, which he says are very serious. He talked about violent conflicts, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines, and irreversible catastrophe.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Elizabeth.

SHOGREN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: That's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren on news today that President Obama will re-examine tougher auto emission standards from the state of California.

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