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Obama Cracks Down on Lax Auto Emission Standards Thwarting GM, Ford, and Honda

January 26th 2009

Energy / Environment - LA Smog
Los Angeles smog

This continuing coverage of America’s oil crisis arises from the just released book, The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press). Buy it here.

With the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama has rewritten the rules of the emission road. He has cracked down on lax auto emission standards previously enshrined by the Bush Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and a Congress that was heavily lobbied by Detroit and Torrance, California automakers.

Obama has directed federal regulators to quickly ratify an application by California and 13 other states that have long sought to set limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks which are stricter than federal guidelines. He also instructed Department of Transportation officials to speedily impose higher fuel-economy standards on cars and light trucks.

These presidential directives reverse years of stagnation as polluted states such as California sought waivers from lax and outmoded federal guidelines. California together with at least 13 states want to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016.

Carmakers such as GM, Ford and Honda vigorously opposed California’s move, fighting it with costly delay-minded litigation for years. At least four federal courts have ruled in favor of California and other states to adopt tougher carbon emissions rules under a 2002 legislation.

Automakers have claimed that the California rules would burden them and the industry with financial peril, driving the price of new cars and trucks sharply higher. This claim was made even as the market cratered for such heavily polluting vehicles as the GM Escalade, the Ford Excursion, and the Honda Pilot. The industry’s opposition continued even as taxpayers were called upon the bail out the car business.
The state’s efforts were ultimately thwarted when the Bush administration vetoed a waiver from the EPA. California then sued the EPA. Congress launched an investigation and Obama made the entire issue a campaign pledge. He promised to grant the waiver if elected.

When signing the executive orders with network cameras broadcasting, Obama explained his move was designed “to insure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in America.” He added that taxpayers were not supporting the auto industry. At the same time, he ordered Department of Transportation officials to finally draw up the rules implementing a 2007 law requiring a 40 percent improvement in gas mileage for autos and light trucks by 2020. The Bush DOT refused to formulate the regulations needed to enforce the 2007 law.

Honda, GM, Ford and other automobile manufacturers will have to immediately retool to produce vehicles that run with less emissions while getting better gas mileage. The car and truck companies are vehemently opposed and plan to launch more expensive litigation to challenge the move—presumably using bailout dollars to do so.

Ray LaHood, new Secretary of Transportation, has already rejected automakers complaints as frivolous. “They knew this was coming,” he said. LaHood is a former Republican congressman from Illinois.
Losing no time, Obama wants temporary regulations in place by March allowing the worst offenders, such as GM and Ford, to retool in time for the 2011 season. The final standards will be hammered out during a lengthy scientific and technological review.

“Our goal is not to further burden the struggling American auto industry,” Obama declared, “but rather to make a major step toward addressing global warming by cleaning up the American transportation fleet.”
Honda and GM did not immediately return calls for comment.

Edwin Black is the New York Times best selling investigative author of IBM and the Holocaust, Internal Combustion and his just released book, The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press). More information about The Plan can be found at www.planforoilcrisis.com. 

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