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States To Set Own Auto Standards

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States To Set Own Auto Standards

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States To Set Own Auto Standards

States To Set Own Auto Standards

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President Barack Obama has called on the Environmental Protection Agency to allow states to set their own stricter rules to curb auto emissions. The move turns back one of many former Bush administration policies.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Let's turn now to NPR's Celeste Headlee. She's in Detroit. And since the announcement, she's been gathering reaction from people in the auto industry. And Celeste, I understand the auto industry universally did not like this new rule. It protested it when California proposed it. So what are they arguing?

CELESTE HEADLEE: Actually, surprisingly enough, there appears to be a certain amount of equanimity - or maybe acceptance is a better word - of the changes today. Yes, the auto industry very fervently argued against California being allowed to set its own standards.

Basically, they just said that you just can't have states deciding what they're going to do, that that needs through the EPA, that the EPA has a better overall national picture, and that, you know, you can't have the automakers trying to meet standards that are different in every single state. And as you probably know, automakers - not just domestic automakers, but foreign automakers as well - have been fighting a rise in CAFE standards for a very long time.

So there was no surprise that they would oppose the idea that California could set its own standards. The fear being, of course, that California was going to set a very high standard that they would struggle to meet. Now, however, with people that I spoke to this morning, they number one, did not seem surprised and number two, they didn't seem all that opposed or upset about the change.

BRAND: So are they ready to meet it, to do it? To change their standards?

HEADLEE: They think they are. And I think it's important to remember that over these past few months, there's been such an emphasis on the automakers and what they have not done to meet changing environmental standards and what they haven't done to make their cars more environmentally sound, I guess.

I think everyone already knew that these kinds of changes were coming, that they had within the past six months really started to retool and re-gear. And during President Barack Obama's candidacy, during the time that he came to Michigan and spoke with automakers and spoke with autoworkers, he said that one of his basic tenets was that he expected the automakers to become environmentally one of the leaders in the environmental movement in helping to make the U.S. more energy independent. So I think everybody kind of knew this was coming, and they think they're ready to get the vehicles out on time that are going to meet those standards.

BRAND: Which is by 2011.

HEADLEE: Right. Which of course is very soon. President Bush's Independence and Security Act, of course, expected them to reach 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and they even said that was very quick. Now, we have no idea what the new standards are going to be. He's just asked them to issue them by - you know, have them ready to roll off, you know, the assembly lines by 2010. And assuming that they're not unreasonably high, the automakers think they're still going to be able to make it, but I guess that is yet to be seen.

BRAND: Well, they had argued for a while that increasing the CAFE standards would mean a loss of jobs. What are they saying today?

HEADLEE: Well, at this point, you know, they're still losing jobs. They just had the announcement that GM is cutting 2,000 jobs in Michigan and Ohio. And obviously they've lost - they've shed thousands and thousands of jobs since that argument that they would - they'd lose jobs. I don't think that argument really holds a lot of water anymore. You can't scare the government by saying we're going to lose more auto jobs.

BRAND: NPR's Celeste Headlee in Detroit. Thanks, Celeste.

HEADLEE: Thank you.

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