Obama Targets Auto Emissions

President Barack Obama is directing the Environmental Protection Agency to review requests by California and 13 other states to set tighter auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama is starting to make good on his campaign promise to change direction on environmental policy. Today, he ordered the environmental protection agency to review California's request to set tougher emission standards for cars and light trucks.

The Bush administration rejected that request last year. Just ahead we'll talk with a top California official who's been pushing for that change. First, here's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren on what environmentalists call a victory.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: President Obama says America has been dependent on foreign oil for too long.

President BARACK OBAMA: It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation, and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.

SHOGREN: And he says these urgent challenges are compounded by the long-term threat of climate change.

President OBAMA: It falls on us to choose whether to risk the peril that comes with our current course or to seize the promise of energy independence. And for the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change.

SHOGREN: The president says that's why he's ordering the EPA to reconsider whether to permit California to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars 30 percent by 2016. Thirteen other states have adopted California's standards, and others are moving in that direction. About half the nation's auto sales are in those states.

The president also told the Department of Transportation to write new rules for national fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. And he highlighted several steps he plans to take as part of an economic stimulus package to reduce energy use. They include making federal buildings more energy efficient and doubling the capacity to create energy from alternative sources like wind within three years.

President OBAMA: We'll save working families hundreds of dollars on their energy bills by weatherizing two millions homes.

SHOGREN: This afternoon, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger applauded Mr. Obama's announcement, and he predicted it will lead to cleaner air and cheaper gasoline bills.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): For too long, Washington has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the environment. Now, California finally has a partner and an ally in Washington at the White House.

SHOGREN: The auto industry has fought in federal and state courts to kill the California standard. Gloria Bergquist from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says the auto industry is happy that the president did not say he would OK California's plan, but just said he'd reviewed it.

Ms. GLORIA BERGQUIST (Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers): It isn't written, yet.

SHOGREN: Bergquist says California's program puts too heavy a burden on the industry at a time when it is laying off workers and closing plants. She says it opens the door for different requirements in each state.

Ms. BERGQUIST: What we're really looking for is one program and not multiple programs.

SHOGREN: Car companies have supported tougher fuel efficiency standards Congress passed a year ago and hope they can be the basis of a new discussion with the administration. But environmental activists who attended the White House ceremony say the announcement is a clear signal that the new administration will approve California's plan. Michelle Robinson represents the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Ms. MICHELLE ROBINSON (Washington Director, Clean Vehicles Program, Union of Concerned Scientists): The important thing we heard today is that this administration is making a clean break from the last administration in saying that science should be behind good policy, not politics.

SHOGREN: Later in the day at the State Department, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton named a new climate change envoy, Todd Stern. He'll help change the direction of the United States' international global warming policy. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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