January 26, 2009

Obama’s Order to Revisit Emissions Limits is Welcome News for Rhode Island, Whitehouse Says

Washington, D.C. – President Obama’s order to revisit a request by California, Rhode Island and other states to set tough restrictions on tailpipe pollution is welcome news for Americans who want to see more fuel-efficient cars and trucks on the road, said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

“For years, the Bush Administration took care of its friends in the oil and gas business instead of pushing for stricter pollution standards that will lead to new cars and trucks that get better fuel economy,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Rhode Island – and America – is ready for tougher limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s exciting to finally have a President who gets it, and will take strong measures to help all Americans breathe cleaner air, spend less at the pump, and use less foreign oil.”

In 2005, California adopted standards for passenger cars, pick-up trucks, minivans and SUVs that require a gradual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions beginning in model year 2009. Since 2005, 14 other states have adopted the California standard, including Rhode Island, and four others are moving towards adoption. Taken together, these 19 states represent over half the population of the U.S. and over 30 percent of the national vehicle market.

According to an analysis by Environment Rhode Island, if every state that has adopted the California standard is allowed to implement the stronger vehicle emissions regulations, cumulative global warming emission reductions could reach as high as 392 million metric tons by 2020 – the equivalent to taking 74 million of today’s cars off the road for an entire year. In 2020, the tougher standards would cut gasoline consumption by as much as 8.3 billion gallons per year and help consumers save up to $25.8 billion annually at the pump.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to waive federal preemption for emissions standards adopted by California, and any other state that adopts those standards, if California determines that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards,” subject to certain conditions.

But under former EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, the Bush Administration denied California’s request, the first time in over 50 instances that EPA has ever denied a California waiver request in full. In hearings before the EPW Committee, Administrator Johnson argued that the decision to deny the waiver was “mine and mine alone,” a claim challenged by other witnesses who stated that Johnson was prepared to grant the waiver in part on the unanimous recommendation of his staff experts, but denied it under pressure from the Bush White House.

Last year, Senator Whitehouse cosponsored S. 2555, a bill introduced by EPW Committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to approve the states’ request legislatively, and called for Johnson’s resignation, charging that he had given misleading testimony before Congress on the waiver.


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