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Obama Team Announces First Rules on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Obama administration on Tuesday outlined a new set of proposed rules for automobile fuel efficiency and emissions. The new rules follow an announcement in May that the administration had reached a deal with automakers and state governments to create a unified national standard.

“This action will give our auto companies some long-overdue clarity, stability and predictability,” Obama said Tuesday in a speech at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

The new rules unify the Environmental Protection Agency’s goals to reduce the emissions from automobiles and the Department of Transportation’s rules on fuel economy. The proposed program will cover model years 2012 through 2016, increasing fleet-wide fuel economy by 5 percent per year. This means by 2016, the fleet-wide average would hit 35.5 miles per gallon, and would need to meet a new limit on emissions per gallon. The new rules will need to go through the traditional approval process before they are finalized, which needs to happen by March 2010. But the administration estimates that they will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons.

More importantly, it will be the Obama administration’s first action toward meeting its stated goals of reducing emissions and complying with the Supreme Court’s directive to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

The real question is whether the administration will follow through with its threat to move onto setting limits for stationary sources of carbon dioxide emissions, like power plants, refineries, and manufacturers. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson declined to offer much information about their progress on that front at a press conference on Tuesday.

“EPA will continue to do it’s job, which is to respond to the now 2-plus-year old ruling about the Clean Air Act,” said Jackson. “I think it is fair to say that today’ announcement is path-breaking … It is the beginning of regulation. We should expect the EPA to continue to do its job.”

But she also made it clear that the administration would still prefer not to write the regulations. “I hope that doesn’t come to pass,” she said. “I believe that legislation is the preferable route.”

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