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Obama to EPA: Let California Set Fuel Efficiency Standards

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Marcin Wichary/Flickr

Marcin Wichary/Flickr
Today President Obama is asking the EPA to reverse a previous Bush-era move that "stopped California and more than a dozen other states from setting their own stricter limits on auto emissions," reports the LA Times.If the EPA accepts Obama's request for a waiver, 14 states, including California, will be able to put in place more strident regulations regarding fuel efficiency standards. These states could require automakers to increase the efficiency in the cars and trucks they produce and sell--a triumph for environmentalists and a campaign promise met from Obama.

California has been at the forefront of the auto emissions issue; a year ago following Bush's refusal of states setting their own standards, the state sued the EPA. Less than a week ago, on Obama's first day at work, California's Governor Schwarzenegger sent him a letter asking that he work quickly to restore our states' abilities to "continue the critical work of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global climate change."

Automakers are less enthusiastic about this move; they have concerns about how they can afford to radically alter the vehicles they produce, as well as how to work well with different rules for states within the same nation. The changes that could be put in place would be asking car makers to address multiple issues in their vehicles:

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The California rules don't strictly limit mileage. But by setting caps on carbon emissions, they would effectively require vehicles to reach as much as 42 mpg by 2020, according to some estimates. Currently, only two mass-produced vehicles, the Toyota Prius and the hybrid Honda Civic, average at least 42 mpg. To reach that level on a fleetwide basis, automakers would likely have to invest in costly new technologies such as hybrid drive trains. Industry estimates put the per-vehicle cost of compliance as high as $5,000.

Although Obama has asked the EPA to review the Bush decision today, a change will not take place overnight, as "the agency is expected to take several months to reach a final decision on whether to reverse the Bush denial."