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Obama Affirms Importance of State Policy Innovation By Making California Emissions Rules a National Standard

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday a comprehensive national standard aimed at improving fuel economy and auto emissions through the implementation of tough new rules for tailpipe emissions and higher fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles, based largely on standards already adopted by California and other states, illustrating how state policy can drive national change.  

New Federal Standard:  The new standards will start in 2012 and gradually increase each year until they hit established targets in 2016.  According to the administration, the new rules will produce the environmental equivalent of removing 177 million cars from the roads over the next 6 1/2 years.  "The status quo is no longer acceptable," Obama said, warning that the American appetite for oil comes at a "tremendous price."  As a result of the new standards, cars and light trucks sold in the United States will be roughly 30 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016, four years ahead of the schedule established by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.  The average mandated fleet fuel efficiency standard will be 35.5 miles per gallon.  While consumers will initially pay about $1,300 more for new cars, $700 due to previously approved mileage standards and $600 from the new standards just announced, it is projected that they can expect to save $2,800 over the life of a car in lower fuel costs. 

State Action Leading to National Change:  In marked contrast to the Bush administration EPA which rejected California's request for a waiver to impose tougher emission standards, President Obama used California’s progressive state action, and the adoption of California's standards by at least thirteen other states and the District of Columbia, as a jumping off point for a national policy. The end result is a plan that was agreed to by the federal government, states and the auto industry.  The new policy imposes strong regulations, implemented in a reasonable manner, that will help us address one of the world’s biggest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, vehicles.

The Obama plan gives California and the 13 other states essentially what they wanted, except with a more phased-in approach. In exchange for accepting a more gradual approach, the law will apply to all 50 states and states that are currently struggling to fund basic programs will be saved the hardship of having to create standards and enforcement procedures.  According to the Washington Post, while "sources close to the administration say the EPA will still grant a waiver to California at the end of June, California will not exercise the waiver in light of the new national standards."  State action and the threat of multiple standards in different states helped push the auto industry to accept federal reforms, since a national standard, according to David McCurdy of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, would provide "clarity and predictability." 

In Related Action, Obama Ends Routine Bush Preemption of State Laws in Federal Regulations:  On Wednesday, the White House emphasized its new commitment to respecting state regulatory rules by issuing a broad Memorandum on Preemption to all heads of executive departments and agencies, ordering them to avoid the preemption language routinely included in Bush-era regulatory preamble statements or in codified regulations unless there is "full consideration of the legitimate prerogatives of the States and with a sufficient legal basis for preemption."  As President Obama states in the opening of the memorandum:

The Federal Government's role in promoting the general welfare and guarding individual liberties is critical, but State law and national law often operate concurrently to provide independent safeguards for the public. Throughout our history, State and local governments have frequently protected health, safety, and the environment more aggressively than has the national Government.

This memorandum codifies the commitment, highlighted in the auto emissions decision, to move beyond a narrow view that state legislative and regulatory action is in conflict with federal authority.  Instead the new administration is pursuing a collaborative approach where states can enact more aggressive consumer, environmental and worker protections and act as a model for national minimum standards, which will act as a floor while allowing additional protections by individual states.

Resources:
Obama to Toughen Rules on Emissions and Mileage 
Vehicle Emission Rules to Tighten Obama Drives up Miles-per-Gallon Requirements
Obama Allows California to Adopt Car Emission Standards - New Day for State Regulatory Authority

Progressive States Network - Restoring State Authority: An Agenda to Restrict Preemption of State Laws