From: Bryan Walsh, TIME
Published May 19, 2009 06:07 AM

Obama to Tighten Fuel-Economy Standards

In a landmark decision on climate change and energy, President Barack Obama will announce tough new vehicle gas-mileage standards on Tuesday, the first ever national limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The new policy, which was worked out between Washington, state governments and the auto industry, will require automakers to meet a minimum fuel-efficiency standard of 35.5 miles a gallon by model year 2016 — four years earlier than Congress currently requires. 

Not only could the move potentially kick-start the sputtering U.S. auto industry, while saving the equivalent of some 1.8 billion barrels of oil, it also raises hopes that the Obama Administration will be able to forge a compromise on the tricky matter of a national cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. "It's an enormous breakthrough for national legislation," says Vickie Patton, a senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. "It ends years of polarization on extraordinarily difficult issues and leaves us with a sense of progress."


The plan settles a dispute between the state of California and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that dates back to George W. Bush's White House. Under the Clean Air Act, California has the right to enforce air-pollution standards that are tougher than the rest of the nation's rules — provided the EPA gives it a waiver.

In the past, such waivers had been all but automatic — but when California tried to pass stricter emissions standards for vehicles, the Bush EPA balked, setting up a string of legal battles. California pressed its right to green its millions of cars and trucks; U.S. automakers claimed that if California could go its own way, the result would be a patchwork of different fuel-efficiency standards around the nation, making business all but impossible.

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