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Obama Hands Car Keys To "Bold, Bipartisan" California

SAMANTHA YOUNG   01/27/09 06:42 AM ET   AP

Schwarzenegger Environment

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California was handed a big environmental victory when President Barack Obama endorsed a key part of the state's greenhouse gas reduction plan.

He also gave a public boost to the Golden State, offering a clear sign that liberal-leaning California can expect a friendly relationship with his administration after eight years of clashes with former President George W. Bush.

"California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead," Obama said Monday.

The compliment came as the president announced that his team would revisit the Bush administration's decision to deny California permission to control tailpipe emissions.

Obama's announcement on his seventh day in office delighted California officials who have criticized his predecessor for ignoring the state's long tradition of setting its own air standards.

"For too long, Washington has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the environment," Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. "Now California finally has a partner and an ally in Washington, in the White House."

Because California began regulating vehicle pollution before the federal government did, the state has special status under the Clean Air Act to implement tougher emission standards than those promulgated by the federal government.

But the state must first get a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. California was granted about 50 such waivers _ and never denied _ before seeking a waiver in 2005 to implement a landmark state law that would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.

The auto regulations were to have been a major part of California's first-in-the-nation global warming law that aims to reduce greenhouse gases economy-wide by 25 percent _ to 1990 levels _ by 2020. Air regulators are counting on the auto emission reductions to meet about 18 percent of the state's proposed reductions.

If California is granted an emissions waiver, other states can then choose to adopt California's standards or go with the federal ones. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia were ready to implement the California standards when, after months of delay and controversy, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced in December 2007 that he was denying the waiver.

That sparked outrage, investigations and lawsuits from California officials. Congressional investigations led by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, found that Johnson had overruled the unanimous recommendations of career scientists at the agency.

Boxer said Obama's order was "a vindication for common sense."

Although Obama's directive to his new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson _ who began her first week on the job Monday _ doesn't amount to giving the state the waiver, California officials were confident that would be the eventual outcome.

Obama's move was also cheered in Washington state, where Gov. Chris Gregoire signed that state's similar tailpipe standards into law in 2005.

"This decision will help protect the planet as we work with the federal government to tackle one of our most pressing environmental problems," Gregoire said. "Making investments now to protect our health and environment will cost us far less in the long run."

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said he was happy that Washington state may soon be able to move forward with the law.

"What a difference a president makes," he said. "What's unfortunate is that if we moved quicker, not just as states, but as a nation, we might already be selling cars that people actually want to buy."

___

Associated Press writers Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash.; and Erica Werner in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Filed by Dave Burdick  |