January 22, 2009

California Asks Obama To Review Emissions Regulations

It is likely that President Barack Obama's administration will let the state of California impose its own tough limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars by May, California's top climate change official predicted on Wednesday.

Granting California a waiver that allows it to set its own emissions regulations would be a big victory for environmentalists and a positive sign towards Obama's commitment to tackling climate change.

The new Environmental Protection Agency chief was asked by California to revisit the Bush administration's 2007 decision that denied the state's request to impose its own regulations.

Mary Nichols, California's top air quality regulator, told Reuters that a decision could come by late May. Nichols, the state Air Resources Board chairman, sent a letter to designated EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday requesting the review.

More than 12 U.S. states could proceed with plans to impose stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, should the EPA reverse the Bush administration ruling. By 2016, California wants to reduce the emissions by 30 percent, making it the most ambitious federal or state effort to combat climate change.

The state wants to require carmakers to use paints that reflect more heat, tires that roll smoother and improved air conditioning to boost efficiency beyond the fuel mileage requirements already facing automakers.

So far, the EPA has not been available for comment on the matter.

The former Bush administration previously denied the request by California, which requires federal clearance to set clean air standards alongside the U.S. government.

Jackson stated she would revisit the so-called California waiver that would be followed by more than a dozen states if the EPA gives it the go-ahead.

Nichols said she and Jackson have been allies in the effort.

She predicted it might take the federal government until May to clear several procedural hurdles before California could proceed.

"If the California waiver is granted, states that represent over half the population of the United States and an even larger part of the market for new cars will be committing themselves to require the auto manufacturers to produce and sell vehicles that are 30 percent cleaner," she added.

Environmentalists often criticized Bush, saying his administration favored industry and politics over environmental science. His EPA administrator denied California's request in the past, resulting in California and several other states filing suits over the decision.

Automakers have expressed concerns that the changes could add substantially to sticker prices.

"It would add a little over $100 to the price of a car, and the improvements would pay off within a year through improved efficiency," Nichols said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also pressed for the EPA to reconsider.

Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter to Obama: "I ask that you direct the U.S. EPA to act promptly and favorably on California's reconsideration request so that we may continue the critical work of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global climate change."


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