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

Obama's Bold New Auto Standards

In what is a huge victory for California and a strong national commitment to more fuel efficient cars, the Obama administration will reportedly grant California its waiver to issue tough greenhouse gas emissions standards while at the same time combining those standards with a new national Corporate Automotive Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard (for an explanation of the California waiver issue click here). The result will be a unified national fuel standard of 42 miles per gallon for passenger cars by 2016 and 26.2 mpg for light trucks. According to the Times, industry groups are satisfied with the administration's move and will not challenge it.

This is truly huge news and a big victory for the environment. California's leadership on auto standards has been confirmed and for the first time in thirty years the federal government will significantly strengthen CAFE standards. And if the reports are right the Obama administration will accomplish this change by getting the auto industry to drop its lawsuits against California and other states that have chosen to follow the California standards. Otherwise, the new standards even with federal approval might well have faced seriously delay until the resolution of the suits (as it is the California standards were supposed to take effect for model year 2009, something that obviously didn't happen). Moreover California will retain its regulatory leadership role and thus can continue to set the pace, post-2016, for further greenhouse gas emissions reductions for automobiles.

This also shows that the Obama administration is serious about environmental policymaking even in the face of a bleak economy. He could have used the crisis in the auto industry to back away from his commitment to grant the California waiver. Instead, he used his leverage over the industry, combined with widespread recognition that domestic manufacturers need to shift their automotive fleets to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, to extract an agreement that will result in large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.