WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama made clear today that economic woes wont keep him from forcing automakers to build more environmentally friendly vehicles.
The message came in the form of two executive orders. One tells the Department of Transportation to issue tougher fuel economy standards -- a task that is already on its agenda. The other instructs the EPA to review whether states should enforce their own greenhouse gas emission rules for vehicles.
Obama stopped short of saying he wants the EPA to grant California and at least 13 other states a waiver so they can enforce their rules. He favored the waiver, which is opposed by automakers, during his campaign.
As we move forward, we will fully take into account the unique challenges facing the American auto industry and the taxpayer dollars that now support it, Obama said today. Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry; it is to help Americas automakers prepare for the future.
Obamas appointees to head the EPA and Transportation Department vowed during Senate confirmation hearings to take the steps the president called for today.
Obamas first days in office have focused on economic and national security issues. The orders send a signal to environmental groups that they have not been forgotten. They also enabled him to restate his belief that overcoming environmental and energy problems can be good for the economy.
He included in todays remarks a pitch for an $825 billion economic stimulus bill pending in Congress. Some stimulus provisions would begin the spending he seeks to advance alternative sources of energy.
Automakers support the higher federal fuel economy standards scheduled to begin taking effect in the 2011 model year. But they warn that state greenhouse gas rules would create market chaos.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington trade group, said automakers need a single federal-state solution rather than different standards for fuel economy from the Transportation Department, the EPA and the states. The alliance represents the Detroit 3, Toyota, Volkswagen and six other automakers.
The alliance supports a nationwide program that bridges state and federal concerns and moves all stakeholders forward, alliance President Dave McCurdy said today. We are ready to work with the administration on developing a national approach."
In a statement today, General Motors said it is working aggressively on the products and the advanced technologies that match the nation's and consumers priorities to save energy and reduce emissions.
We're ready to engage the Obama administration and Congress on policies that support meaningful and workable solutions and targets that benefit consumers from coast to coast, the GM statement said. We look forward to contributing to a comprehensive policy discussion that takes into account the development pace of new technologies, alternative fuels and market and economic factors.
The National Automobile Dealers Association has warned of irreparable harm if the state rules are enforced.
David Regan, NADAs vice president of legislative affairs, noted today that nearly 1,000 franchised dealerships closed last year, costing more than 50,000 jobs.
We are hopeful the president and the EPA administrator will realize that a single national fuel economy standard set by his administration is smarter than a patchwork of state regulations that further endanger the struggling auto industry, Regan said.
2 House views
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a key advocate of the state rules, said today that granting the request of California and other states to move forward with reducing greenhouse gases emissions from vehicles will steer American automakers to retool their fleets.
Only through innovation will automakers be able to create the greener cars of the future and regain their global competitiveness, Pelosi said.
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the Detroit 3s chief ally in Congress, said today that Obama and the EPA need to lead and cooperate with the states in setting a single, aggressive standard for greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
Added Dingell: I am hopeful that as the EPA begins the process of reconsidering the waiver, it will act in a thoughtful and careful manner.