LINDA WORHEIMER, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wortheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. One Bush administration legacy that the Obama administration plans to review and will likely reverse are the rules on tailpipe emissions from cars. At this hour, President Obama is speaking about energy policy, and he is expected to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a request by the state of California to impose strict limits on auto emissions.

California's among a number of states that have passed standards even more stringent than those set by the federal government. Under the Bush administration, the EPA blocked California from enforcing its rules. Now that could change. Sasha Khokha of member station KQED reports from California's central valley.

SASHA KHOKHA: I'm standing near Highway 99, which is one of the busiest freeways in the state. Reducing the emissions from cars on freeways like this one has been a top priority for California air regulators. Four years ago, the state adopted rules that require auto manufacturers who sell cars in California to cut their fleet's greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in just under a decade. Now that doesn't mean gas-guzzlers couldn't be sold in California anymore. It means auto manufacturers would have to sell enough low-emission vehicles so their fleet's average could meet the standard. In the meantime, more than a dozen other states have adopted California's standard, but none of those states can act until California gets a waiver from the EPA.

Crowd: EPA, shame on you. EPA, shame on you.

KHOKHA: In 2007, the state was denied that waiver by the EPA administrator under then President Bush, Stephen Johnson. That enraged California environmentalists.

Unidentified Woman #1: This is a man...

Crowd: Boo.

Unidentified Woman#1: This man is not listening to science. This man wants to set his own agenda.

KHOKHA: President Obama has clearly indicated that his environmental appointees, including new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, will listen to science. She's pledged to review California's waiver request, quote, "very, very aggressively."

Mr. TRIP VAN NOPPEN (Executive Director, EarthJustice): The environmental community's eager to see a lot of change fast. There's a huge amount of pent-up enthusiasm and demand for change.

KHOKHA: Trip Van Noppen is executive director of EarthJustice, an environmental law group. He's got a long list of expectations for the new administration, but California's greenhouse gas emissions waiver is at the top.

Mr. VAN NOPPEN: It is something that is primed for early action, teed up and ready to go.

KHOKHA: But automakers say, not so fast. With their industry hitting the skids, now more than ever, they can't afford to build different cars for different states under what they call a state-by-state patchwork of regulations. Charles Territo is a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has fought California's rules in court for years.

Mr. CHARLES TERRITO (Spokesman, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers): You know, at this difficult time for the industry and for the economy as a whole, what we need is certainty and consistency. Not confusion and chaos. And I think we're all concerned that this would create chaos, not only for consumers, but also for dealers and for manufacturers.

KHOKHA: It may be painful for automakers, but California won't back down, says Jerry Brown, the state's attorney general.

Mr. JERRY BROWN (Attorney General, California): The irony here is the auto companies want a bailout in many ways because they weren't building the kind of cars that were compatible with today's energy market. And at the same time, they want to keep going with their lawsuits, which have already cost millions and millions of dollars.

KHOKHA: If California wins this battle, it will cost consumers, adding hundreds or thousands of dollars to the sticker price of each vehicle. And that's not just for California car buyers. More than a dozen states to poised to adopt the California standard, and that's at least 40 percent of the U.S. auto market. For NPR News, I'm Sasha Khokha.

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