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Obama Positioned to Quickly Reverse Bush Actions

President Bush denied California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. The president-elect says he will overturn that decision.
President Bush denied California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. The president-elect says he will overturn that decision. (By Kevork Djansezian -- Associated Press)

The president-elect has said, for example, that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. "Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer," Obama said in January.

California had sought permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to require that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles be cut by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, effectively mandating that cars achieve a fuel economy standard of at least 36 miles per gallon within eight years. Seventeen other states had promised to adopt California's rules, representing in total 45 percent of the nation's automobile market. Environmentalists cheered the California initiative because it would stoke innovation that would potentially benefit the entire country.

"An early move by the Obama administration to sign the California waiver would signal the seriousness of intent to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and build a future for the domestic auto market," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Before the election, Obama told others that he favors declaring that carbon dioxide emissions are endangering human welfare, following an EPA task force recommendation last December that Bush and his aides shunned in order to protect the utility and auto industries.

Robert Sussman, who was the EPA's deputy administrator during the Clinton administration and is now overseeing EPA transition planning for Obama, wrote a paper last spring strongly recommending such a finding. Others in the campaign have depicted it as an issue on which Obama is keen to show that politics must not interfere with scientific advice.

Some related reforms embraced by Obama's transition advisers would alter procedures for decision-making on climate issues. A book titled "Change for America," being published next week by the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal think tank, will recommend, for example, that Obama rapidly create a National Energy Council to coordinate all policymaking related to global climate change.

The center's influence with Obama is substantial: It was created by former Clinton White House official John D. Podesta, a co-chairman of the transition effort, and much of its staff has been swept into planning for Obama's first 100 days in office.

The National Energy Council would be a counterpart to the White House National Economic Council that Clinton created in a 1993 executive order.

"It would make sure all the oars are rowing in the right direction" and ensure that climate change policy "gets lots of attention inside the White House," said Daniel J. Weiss, a former Sierra Club official and senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The center's new book will also urge Obama to sign an executive order requiring that greenhouse gas emissions be considered whenever the federal government examines the environmental impact of its actions under the existing National Environmental Policy Act. Several key members of Obama's transition team have already embraced the idea.

Other early Obama initiatives may address the need for improved food and drug regulation and chart a new course for immigration enforcement, some Obama advisers say. But they add that only a portion of his early efforts will be aimed at undoing Bush initiatives.

Despite enormous pent-up Democratic frustration, Obama and his team realize they must strike a balance between undoing Bush actions and setting their own course, said Winnie Stachelberg, the center's senior vice president for external affairs.

"It took eight years to get into this mess, and it will take a long time to get out of it," she said. "The next administration needs to look ahead. This transition team and the incoming administration gets that in a big way."

Staff writers Juliet Eilperin, Spencer S. Hsu and Carol D. Leonnig and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.


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