Bush Calls For Cuts In Vehicle Emissions

By Steven Mufson and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

With gasoline prices spiraling to record highs last week and a recent Supreme Court ruling requiring executive action to restrict global warming gases, President Bush yesterday ordered four federal agencies to draw up regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks by the end of his administration.

But Democrats, environmentalists and some energy experts said the president was simply delaying measures that he has the power to impose now.

During a brief event in the White House Rose Garden, Bush said he was asking for rules to "cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles." The regulations, he said, should be consistent with his previously announced plan to reduce projected gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next decade.

"We're taking action by taking the first steps toward rules that will make our economy stronger, our environment cleaner and our nation more secure," Bush said.

Critics responded that the president's announcement fell short of what was needed at a time when gasoline prices are soaring, the U.S. automobile industry is in turmoil and Congress is trying to raise fuel efficiency standards for the first time in a generation.

They also noted that Bush had shifted the policy focus to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a lengthy rulemaking process, and away from the Transportation Department, which sets corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.

"In effect, the president asked his agency heads to share ideas and come up with a plan that is due three weeks before he leaves office," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the new House select committee on climate change. Markey said that "will leave motor vehicle fuel economy stuck in neutral until Bush's successor takes office."

The Sierra Club's executive director, Carl Pope, said Bush has "the clear authority" to raise CAFE standards, which haven't been changed in two decades. "He can and should act immediately to do so," Pope said.

Under Bush's plan, the Agriculture, Energy and Transportation departments will work with the EPA to develop regulations to lower vehicle emissions. "This is a complicated legal and technical matter, and it's going to take time to fully resolve," Bush said.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said in a conference call that the administration will still prefer legislation mandating more efficient cars and trucks. In his State of the Union address in January, Bush called for raising fuel efficiency standards by about 4 percent a year for the next 10 years, but the administration has not introduced legislation to do so.

Two Senate measures that would have a similar effect have attracted widespread Democratic and Republican support.

Political pressure has mounted with gasoline prices. Yesterday, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration announced that gas prices shot up by 5 cents a gallon last week, to an average of $3.10 for unleaded regular fuel. That beat the previous record set after Hurricane Katrina disrupted oil supplies in late 2005, although it fell short of the inflation-adjusted record of $3.22 a gallon set in 1981.

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