Obama Announces New Energy, Environmental Policies

President Barack Obama is pushing stronger curbs on greenhouse gases, saying he wants to make it easier for states such as California to adopt tougher fuel-efficiency rules than the federal standard. Video by AP
By William Branigin, Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 26, 2009; 4:48 PM

President Obama today promised new U.S. leadership in the fight against global warming as he announced a series of steps aimed at making American cars more fuel efficient and reducing greenhouse gases, including a directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider granting California and other states waivers to set their own strict regulations on auto emissions.

In remarks at the White House at the start of his second week in office, Obama declared a national goal of ending dependence on foreign oil and called on Congress to pass a massive stimulus package that he said would help "create a new American energy economy."

Flanked by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, he signed two presidential directives that could lead to the production of more fuel-efficient American cars with reduced tailpipe emissions.

The moves are aimed at reversing decisions by Bush administration, which he said had stood in the way of bold action by California and other states to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over," Obama said.

He said he could not promise a "quick fix" for the nation's dependence on foreign oil, but he pledged to "commit ourselves to the steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit" of energy independence.

Saying the nation has arrived at a "crossroads," he declared: "It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs."

Obama said the administration would ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built in the United States and would start by implementing new fuel efficiency standards for the 2011 model year.

"Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry," he said, but to help American automakers "prepare for the future" and "thrive by building the cars of tomorrow."

Separately, the State Department today named Todd Stern, formerly a senior official in the Clinton administration, as the new U.S. envoy on climate change. Stern, a partner in a Washington law firm and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank, coordinated the Clinton administration's Initiative on Global Climate Change from 1997 to 1999 and served as the top White House negotiator on the Kyoto talks on global warming from 1999 to 2001.

With Stern's appointment, "we are sending an unequivocal message that the United States will be energetic, focused, strategic and serious about addressing global climate change and the corollary issue of clean energy," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

In the presidential directives he signed today, Obama instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California and other states waivers to regulate automobile tailpipe emissions linked to global warming, and he ordered the Transportation Department to issue guidelines to ensure that the nation's auto fleet reaches an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, if not earlier. Under a 2007 law, the annual fuel economy increases begin with the 2011 model year, Obama noted. To meet the standards for 2011, he directed that a federal rule be published by March 30.

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