States looking to toughen their auto emission standards got a boost from President Barack Obama on Monday, when he broke from Bush administration policy and ordered the government to re-examine whether California and other states should be allowed to impose stricter standards.
Obama also directed his administration to get moving on new fuel-efficiency guidelines for the auto industry in time to cover 2011 model-year cars.
"For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change," Obama said in his first formal event in the ornate East Room of the White House.
"It will be the policy of my administration," he said, "to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs."
California and at least a dozen other states have tried to come up with tougher emission standards than those imposed by the federal government, but Obama said that "Washington stood in their way." The president wants the Environmental Protection Agency to take a second look at a decision denying California — and the other states, such as Florida, that want to follow its model — permission to set tougher tailpipe emission standards.
Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 ordered state environmental regulators to adopt rules that would bring Florida in line with the California clean car standard. The Legislature, in a last-minute add-on to the 2008 energy bill, said the state couldn't adopt the standards without legislative approval. The state Environmental Regulatory Commission last year approved the standard, and has forwarded it to the Legislature for debate during the upcoming session.
The Clean Air Act gives California special authority to regulate vehicle pollution because the state began regulating such pollution before the federal government got into the act. But a federal waiver is still required; if the waiver is granted, other states can choose to adopt California's standards or the federal ones.
In 2007 the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency denied California's waiver request, gaining praise from the auto industry but touching off a storm of investigations and lawsuits from Democrats and environmental groups who contended the denial was based on political instead of scientific reasons.
Obama on Monday directed the EPA to re-examine the decision. That does not yet overturn anything. But still, the states' wanting their own power considered it a victory.
"The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Obama said. He added: "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them."
California's proposed restrictions would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.
At least 13 other states — Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — have already adopted California's standards, and they have been under consideration elsewhere, too.
Times staff writer Asjylyn Loder contributed to this report.