First 100 Days: Obama’s first climate change target

January 22, 2009

Mary D. Nichols– Mary D. Nichols is Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, the lead agency for implementing California’s landmark climate change law, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The views expressed are her own. –

After eight years of inaction on climate change by the federal government, we can now look forward to the Obama administration tackling global warming head on. With not a minute to lose, Lisa Jackson, the soon-to-be new head of the EPA, should move quickly to capitalize on the momentum of states that have so far been the leaders in fighting global warming. There is no better place to start than by establishing a national greenhouse gas emission standard for automobiles based on California’s landmark clean car law.

California has always been a pioneer in setting tough automobile emission standards. Our regulations paved the way for lead-free gas, the catalytic converter, and many other innovations that were later adopted as the national standard. As a result, we have eliminated 99 percent of harmful pollution pouring out of autos today compared to a 1960s era car, leading to clearer skies and cleaner air in our cities.

In 2002, California continued its track record of pioneering environmental legislation when it passed a law that directly addressed greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Personal vehicles produce 20 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases, and so are increasingly being addressed by governments that are serious about averting catastrophic climate change. Thirteen other states have formally adopted and three states are considering adoption of California’s cost-effective and technologically doable program.

Indeed, the motivation is not only environmental – owners of these cars will save thousands of dollars over the vehicle’s life because cars that meet the standard are also likely to be more fuel efficient.

Together with California, these 16 states constitute almost half the country’s new vehicle sales, creating a huge market for the best that Detroit has to offer.

Despite these benefits, the EPA blocked California from enforcing its greenhouse gas emission standards for cars. It also delayed responding to the Supreme Court, which required that the EPA consider using the federal Clean Air Act to create a program similar to California’s program to reduce emissions from all the nation’s vehicles. Just last month, the outgoing administration failed to carry through on its promise to publish new CAFE rules – national fuel economy standards – as required by Congress.

The new Obama Administration should use this opportunity to set a new foundation for American energy and climate security. Soon-to-be Administrator Jackson should immediately follow through with President Obama’s promise to allow California’s regulations to come into force. She should also begin the process to create a national greenhouse gas standard for cars based on California’s approach – a 30 percent reduction by model year 2016 – and establishing even greater reductions in the future.

At the same time, the Obama Administration should direct the Department of Transportation to fix its flawed CAFE rules to be compatible with new climate change needs. It also needs to address a regulatory process so distorted that fuel economy standards are based on the technology of the “least capable manufacturer,” holding our nation’s energy security hostage to the lowest common denominator. Instead, Obama should direct DOT to work in concert with EPA to create standards that work for both fuel economy and the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Coordinating these two approaches will also provide automobile manufacturers with THE stable set of national policies they have been calling for. This strong national program will also send a clear signal to Detroit to fire their lawyers who have been wastefully battling California’s regulation and hire the engineers who will build the cars consumers want and that will support the future success of America’s auto industry in a global market.

If we’re going to wring the carbon out of our economy, we will need the coordinated actions of government agencies across all sectors and additional investments for rapid economic recovery under a comprehensive national climate change framework. That will take time to develop, and some careful planning. In the meantime, the EPA can immediately draw upon the experience of states like California and its leadership under Governor Schwarzenegger to use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act and take effective and early action against climate change.

By acting now, the EPA will show the world that the United States is finally taking its place among the community of nations to address the pressing challenge of, in the words of our new president, a planet in peril. California, and many other states, stand ready to help.


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National standards are the economical way to go!

Posted by tom | Report as abusive

For thse who doubt the effects of GHG and climate change….

Even if GHG does not create climate change, doesn’t it make sense to start producing power and using the worlds resources by less polluting means???

The technology is available, we need to start paying for the real total cost of using dirty energy and equipment.

Posted by Perry | Report as abusive

I have to wonder how idiotic one needs to be to claim that the federal regulation plays to the “least capable manufacturer” (not to mention belive it). This statement implys that somehow Honda (a comany that NEVER made a truck) has some fuel economy secret that that Ford and Chevy are too stupid to figure out. Any one that does even the smallest amount of research will find that when you compare apples to apples, you will realize that the American automobile manufacturers DO NOT lag on fuel economy. i.e. A Civic gets better fuel economy than an F-150; but it is the SAME as a Focus. What is different is that people who have a legitmate need for a pick-up truck buy Fords and Chevys because they make the best trucks. If California is alowed to create their own rules, that would force the American companies to stop selling trucks in California. I suppose anyone living in California that needs a truck for their business will have to buy their vehicle in Arizona or Nevada.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

If Israel has nuclear weapon, Israel will not use it first against Iran. If Iran has nuclear weapon Iran probably will use it against Israel. So there is a question how keep away Iran from nukes. It’s likely impossible that Iran benevolently resigns of nuclear weapon. So there are two problems: first what will happen if Iran strikes Israel, what will happen if Israel answers. Very likely we have unimaginable disaster. So maybe better to have smaller disaster – to destroy Iranian nuclear potential.
Andrzej Bonarski

Posted by Andrzej Bonarski | Report as abusive

Silly really to believe that regulating the fuel standards of cars and light trucks according to California’s clean car laws is going to have much of an effect on co2 levels in our atmosphere in 2016. Ever sat on the 405 and looked up? And that governments around the globe are having to set up new regulatory standards and new taxing structures with international organizations to monitor, regulate, and manage all this heat or carbon or whatever! A carbon tax and it’s legislation must be created to pay for and manage it all ? And set the standards according to California’s landmark clean car law? The writer states that personal vehicles constitute 20 percent of the nations’ green-house gasses. What constitutes the other 80 percent? What is being done about that? It is silly to think that on 2016 (obama’s final year if he serves 2 terms) cars being made from then on will save our planet and bring back our polar ice caps. Will the ice caps last that long? Who knows? By 2016 there will probably be 30 percent more drivers on the road. But , We’ll have more-fuel efficient cars so it’ll be ok. Right? Silly argument. Especially when people turn it into a republican/democrat battle. People should realize that they both play the same game and that’s to convince citizens that there is such a huge difference between the two when really there is not. To generate false legitimacy. People have many tools to utilize on their own that can EASILY and SWIFTLY remedy this situation. One is simply to walk. Americans are too obese anyways right? So quit driving and walk to work. Walk to the store and let your kids walk to school. Just think if 30 percent of America’s drivers starting walking to work. Ride a bicycle. Or perhaps they could ride a bus. 30 percent ride the bus. Think of that. Or 80 percent of drivers say i’m not driving a car that gets under 40 miles to the gallon. And they actually stop buying those that do not. How about that? Simple. Free market kind of thinking. How about people stop buying airline tickets until airlines can cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent? Start taking a zeppelin, train, or a 40 mpg vehicle on your trips. Carpool. How much carbon output does militaries around the globe produce? We could cut a lot of that by just getting along with each other. How about everyone on this planet each plant 30 trees a month for the next 8 years. How about instead of investing in wall street criminals and futures derivatives people actually invest in their communities and local attempts at creating new products to help curb these carbon levels in our atmosphere? Those all sound better to me and much more reliable than any government regulation and global standards ever could accomplish and certainly it would happen much much faster.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

It’s a strange world when a Democratic president does in six days what Republican governor could not convince a Republican president to do in four years of letter-writing, lawsuits and international embarrassment.  /1/26/state-emissions-standards-finally -approved

Posted by ty | Report as abusive

There are many of you out there that fear green house gases and what they may do. I suggest we put some if not all those fears to rest. Have you ever looked in a green house? Do you know what grows in green houses. Every green house I have seen seems to have good things growing in them such as flowers and food. Think of it if the earth warms then we have a greater growing area which means a heck of a lot more food for all us. WE have adapted to many changes why not to a climate change. I think most of what we hear is feat from those who want fear or profit from the fear. I see a green house as plus. I have to admit that after the two past winters we have had where I live, record snow both years, I think we should be more fearful of the world cooling off a degree or two not warming. CB

Posted by CB | Report as abusive

Yes, CO2 levels have risen during the industrial age. The planet was warming before that (since the ‘Little Ice Age’ during the European Dark Ages…) because the nutation of the Earth’s poles has made the northern winter much less severe in more recent times. The North Sea used to be dry because of all of the water locked up as ice – that change had nothing to do with industrial CO2 – cycles happen whether humans participate or not. It makes sense to minimize our ecological footprint, but it doesn’t make sense to shoot our foot off to accomplish that.

Posted by Steve E | Report as abusive

My climate is always changing. Whats wrong with that.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

To CB and Kent, respectively (and presumably a few others):

First, I think you are confusing the greenhouse effect with a literal ‘greenhouse’. The greenhouse effect is a mechanism by which infrared radiation is trapped by certain gaseous molecules (whereas normally the infrared radiation is not absorbed by the Earth, but reflected back into space) in the atmosphere. This is good, and required for life. But the problem is the Earth is a delicate system, and life depends on a balance. As more greenhouse gases are emmitted into the atmosphere, the more infrared radiation is trapped, thus warming the air. This is not a uniform phenomenon, so it’s more accurately called Global Climate change. The literal greenhouse that does in fact facilitate plant growth, is nothing more than a way to heat up the ground by allowing ultraviolet light to come through and then trap the resulting heat. No infrared trapping molecules involved here.

Second, Kent, I think these technologies are so expensive because, although they have recieved some funding, they do not enjoy the privaleged monopoly on the market that fossil fuels enjoy. They do recieve money, but an order of magnitude less than oil and coal operations. Nuclear might help reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere, but it won’t help to make this world a better place (i.e. toxic waste, accidents (they will happen, again) and not to mention that our radioactive materials are not unlimited, like wind and solar.) And while you mention it, look into the nuclear industry’s history and you will see how cost consuming they are, and what lengths private energy companies will go to market the ‘benefits’. I.e. Eisenhower and “atoms for peace” campaign…rubbish…

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive