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Obamas Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards

Should the governance of pollution be left to the states or should it be governed by the federal government in a single standard? Many times in the past, the EPA has allowed the states (primarily California) to regulate at least portions of their pollution output, primarily in deference to regional challenges in the quality of air for breathing. In the past several years the Bush administration has pushed back on this but now it appear that the Obama administration is going to reverse this trend. He appears to be ready to allow 14 states including California to set their own emissions standards.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or bad. I can see both sides of the argument. If the concern was about emissions that affect the quality of the air in a region then I can see the value. However, these proposed standards seem to be about carbon dioxide emission and it is difficult for me to see the value of 14 states doing something in lieu of all 50. Also these changes affect the infrastructure and the health of all 50 states since it will affect the automobile producing states and the health of their corporate infrastructure.

Of course, all of this is a result of the Supreme Court ruling that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. If it is a pollutant than it can (should?) be regulated. If the Supreme Court did not create that standard then I doubt that this would be an issue of global warming but rather just cleaner air.

I hesitate to say that this is a wise move.

Take a moment to read a few highlights from the NY Times on the subject. Please click through and read the entire article. You can also read some other opinions on this subject here and here and here.

President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.


Mr. Obamas presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administrations past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agencys regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.


But the centerpiece of Mondays anticipated announcement is Mr. Obamas directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work immediately on granting California a waiver, under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state, a longtime leader in air quality matters, to set standards for automobile emissions stricter than the national rules.California has already won numerous waivers for controls on emissions that cause smog, as opposed to global warming.


The California law, which was originally meant to take effect in the 2009 model year, requires automakers to cut emissions by nearly a third by 2016, four years ahead of the federal timetable. The result would be an increase in fuel efficiency in the American car and light truck fleet to roughly 35 miles per gallon from the current average of 27.

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2 Responses to “Obamas Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards”

  1. Sean,

    It is with some hesitancy that I do so, but I do endorse moving this issue back to the states.

    My reasons are more systemic and do not pertain to just this particular issue.

    I believe that the reach of the federal government has now been extended so far in so many directions that the reach now exceeds the ability of federal policy makers and federal regulators to grasp many issues well enough to be able to formlate, legislate and regulate in a way that is in our and our country’s long term best interests.

    I believe that if we are to be a nation that is structured as a republic, then to the greatest extent that is practical, local issues should be left to local governments and state issues should be left to state governments. That way federal policy makers could use their time and efforts to deal more effectively with issues that are of national importance and maybe start to do so before panic sets in and all of the decisions are knee jerk, panic driven decisions. Things such as improved processes of governance of the nation. Maybe just stop trying to pull the right sets of strings in the nation’s financial system in an effort to Howdy Doody the American people into doing their bidding and trying to be puppeteers for the nation’s economy. If they want to manage the nation’s economy then they should resign and go get a job managing a business that is a part of the economy.

    We have many issues that are of national importance that are in need of much greater attention from Congress and the Administrative Branch of the federal government. Things that need to be done and if they are to be done and done right, must be done by the federal government.

    Many are getting short shrift from Washington because the people in Washington are now spending so much of their available time and efforts ineffectually dinking and doinking around with state and local issues for personal political reasons when state and local governments along with their citizens are much better positioned to be able to develop and implement effective solutions.

    While they are at it, they should pull global warming back out of the political rathole that they drug it into and turn it back over to real scientists who may actually be able to find real answers to some very important real scientific questions. It appears to me that neither the politicians nor any of political gadflys that have swarmed around global warming have any way to add constructively to resolving any of the open scientific questions.

    Just my opinion.

  2. The obvious problem is that this means the most restrictive state will set the rules for all 50 states. Nobody really believes that Detroit will make 50 or even 5 different models of each car to meet the demands of conflicting standards, do they?

    This is a really stupid, economically short-sighted action for many reasons, but I doubt it will get that far. This is DOA as a Commerce Clause violation. At a minimum, congress will need to grant states the authority. Even then I’m not sure the Supreme Court would go along with it as they may hold that this authority is non-delegable. Regardless of how that works out, Obama absolutely lacks the authority to do this through presidential order.