ENVIRONMENT
04/04/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

California Emissions Battle Nears Climax, Other States Anxious

Under President Bush, the EPA denied California's request to let the state require cleaner cars for its residents. Upon taking office, President Obama asked his environmental team to reconsider that decision, and their decision is nearly upon us.

A public hearing this Thursday will be of great interest to two governors -- Schwarzenegger of California and Granholm of Michigan. The Wall Street Journal sets up the conflict:

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday she is "not sure" the Obama administration will let California regulate automobile greenhouse-gas emissions and said she believes the administration would prefer a single national standard governing the industry's fuel economy and emissions levels.

The new EPA has repeatedly indicated its willingness to roll back Bush-era decisions, and administration officials such as climate-and-energy boss Carol Browner and EPA chief Lisa Jackson are proponents of letting California tighten emissions rules.

EMANUEL: "DAY OF RECKONING"

Automakers, naturally, are opposed to the California waiver, because it would allow individual states to demand higher fuel efficiency and if a big state were to suddenly get strict -- say, California -- the industry would have to get on the stick and design a new round of cleaner cars. Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, seems to think that any stress in meeting tougher standards would be the auto industry's just desserts. From the Washington Post:

"Here's the other thing, I think, that people should see in both GM as well as the others," Emanuel said. "They never invested in . . . alternative-energy cars, they got dependent on big gas guzzlers. . . . We have a day of reckoning of making sure that we have a policy on energy independence."

NOT JUST CALIFORNIA

And if the EPA were to allow California to regulate fuel economy for itself, it wouldn't be the only state automakers would have to watch. A state representative in Iowa has introduced a bill that would bring Iowa's fuel economy standards in line with those proposed in California, according to the Des Moines Register. There is a public hearing today on the bill:

Under the bill, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission would set emissions standards for most passenger vehicles beginning with the 2011 model year.

The standards would be based on a law in California that requires tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks to be cut 22 percent by 2012 and 30 percent by 2016.