06/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Finally! A Modern Auto Industry

Washington, D.C. -- Tomorrow President Obama will announce that, with a little nudge from Uncle Sam (and a big nudge from the Sierra Club and the states), the auto industry has finally agreed to join the 21st century. President Obama will announce a federal standard for global-warming emissions from vehicles that by 2016 will reduce vehicle global warming pollution by 30 percent. It will achieve the equivalent of a 42-mpg fuel-economy standard for cars and will also catch up to the pioneering clean-car standards promulgated by California since 2005.

A 30 percent reduction in vehicle global warming pollution is enormous -- and the support of the auto industry, which Obama has pulled together, shows how powerful the leverage is when an industry, even one as recalcitrant as this one, realizes that higher standards and accountability are unavoidable.

The auto industry agreed to this package because President Obama has restored the rule of law and science at the EPA, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has made it clear that if the federal government didn't regulate greenhouse pollution, then California and the 15 states that thus far have joined it would have the right to do so on their own. Faced with the reality that in half of the auto market tough carbon-pollution standards are coming anyway (and fearful of a balkanized market), the industry agreed to accept federal standards that by 2016 will be as tough as those California has proposed.

But the auto industry only moved forward when it had to. And there's a lesson here for those of us fighting the oil/coal/dirty-power complex that's been clamoring for bailouts and loopholes in the climate legislation that's pending in the House Commerce Committee. Those special interests will take reducing carbon pollution seriously only when they have to -- and, by itself, the threat of federal climate legislation isn't a strong enough incentive. They believe (with reason) that they have the votes in Congress to water it down.

But if the Obama administration were moving forward with Clean Air Act standards that would reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent by 2016, we'd hear a very different tune on Capitol Hill. And just today in this city, the EPA held its first hearing on exactly such a rulemaking process. The best thing we can all do to ensure that the tremendous victory we have just won against vehicle carbon pollution is followed up with an equally essential victory over power-plant carbon emissions is to let our leaders know that we want the EPA to regulate coal-fired power plants -- and we want it to do so now!