President Obama Signs Environmental Memoranda

Standing in the East Room in the White House with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, President Obama issued two presidential memoranda today dealing with the environment. Both memoranda are written with cautious legalese and assiduous attention to process. But however wary the memoranda may seem, both are expected to lead to dramatic changes in environmental policy from the Bush administration, paving the way for states to impose much stricter fuel emissions standards, and for the federal government to require that U.S. automakers producer far more fuel efficient cars and trucks much quicker than President Bush would have required them to do so. The first of the two presidential memoranda -- which the president erroneously referred to as "executive orders" -- asks Jackson to reconsider the Bush EPA's denial of a waiver to California and more than a dozen other states to seek tougher auto emissions standards than the current federal level. In 2007, the Bush administration's EPA administrator, Steven Johnson, denied the 14 states -- the other 13 are Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and New Jersey -- a waiver to set their own clean air standards. Johnson was overruling EPA staff scientists when he did so. "The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," President Obama said today. "California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st-century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead. But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way ...  The days of Washington dragging its heels are over." House Minority leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the decision could hurt American jobs, given Detroit's struggles. “The president’s action today is disappointing," Boehner said. "The effect of this policy will be to destroy American jobs at the very time government leaders should be working together to protect and create them. Millions of American jobs will be placed in further jeopardy if automakers are forced to spend billions to comply with potentially dozens of different emissions standards in dozens of different states.” The second presidential memorandum directs LaHood to, by March, finalize the fuel efficiency standards for cars for 2011 and to make recommendations for beyond that year, an action expected to lead to stricter fuel efficiency standards. The context for this memorandum: In 2007 Congress passed a law requiring an increase in fuel efficiency standards, giving whoever the President may be discretion in how to best reach a goal of a minimum fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, making sure the goal is technically feasible, economically practical and based on the needs of the nation to save oil. Obama said of the 2020 goal, "that 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency for our cars and trucks could save over 2 million barrels of oil every day: nearly the amount of oil that we import from the Persian Gulf." Under the 2007 law, presidents have to issue new fuel efficiency standards 18 months before each year they are put into place, and they can't make any rules beyond five years out. President Bush proposed fuel efficiency standards for 2011-2015, but never issued them in final form, and environmentalists considered them to be weak. Secretary LaHood will now review the Bush draft of the standards for 2011 and perhaps set new ones by March. He is also instructed to review the 2012-2015 proposals and suggest changes. "We must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America," Obama said. Before he began discussing the environmental actions he was taking, the president took a moment to push for Congress to pass his stimulus bill, noting that "over the last few days, we've learned that Microsoft, Intel, United Airlines, Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and Caterpillar are each cutting thousands of jobs. These are not just numbers on a page. As with the millions of jobs lost in 2008, these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold ... We can't afford distractions and we cannot afford delays." The stimulus package, Mr. Obama said, would "put 460,000 Americans to work with clean energy investments and double the capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years." The bill lays down 3,000 miles of transmission lines and make 75 percent of federal buildings more fuel efficient, he said. Still new to the process, after he signed the memorandum to the EPA administrator President Obama asked his staff secretary Lisa Brown if Jackson gets the pen with which he signed it. Told that she does -- which Jackson was visibly excited about -- the president noted to the assembled crowd of 150 environmentalists and auto industry advocates that "These are nice pens. Although they're a little hard to unstick." LaHood, a former Republican congressman, was given the second pen. -- jpt

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