Clean Car Peace Treaty at White House

White House photo

What a gas!  Today I was on hand for President Obama's announcement of new national standards for cars and trucks to cut their global warming pollution and raise their fuel economy.  It was a picture-perfect day in the White House Rose Garden.  It was amazing to see the president flanked by the heads of 10 domestic and foreign auto companies and the United Auto Workers, and by the governors of California, Michigan and Massachusetts, and leading members of Congress.  Also present were industry and environmental leaders (including NRDC's president Frances Beinecke, our vehicle guru Roland Hwang, and me) who've been fighting for years in state houses and Congress.

But today there was agreement.  President Obama brought about a peace treaty that takes three regulatory regimes - the Environmental Protection Agency and California curbing greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and the Transportation Department raising fuel economy under the Energy Independence and Security Act - and delivers one coherent set of standards at the highest possible level of performance.  This is a formula that will cut global warming pollution, reduce our oil dependence, strengthen our economy, and put the auto industry on the path to a clean energy future. 

(Roland Hwang, State Sen. Fran Pavley, Frances Beinecke, CARB Chair Mary Nichols, and David Doniger at the White House.)

Everybody wins.  We'll have cleaner cars nationwide that meet California's landmark standards for cutting dangerous global warming pollution.  We'll drive cars that save us money every time we fill up at the pump.  We'll cut our country's dependence on oil from dangerous parts of the world.  The car makers will get the practical national uniformity they've been craving.  And we'll help the auto industry get back to health by making cars that make sense in a world of higher oil prices and ever-growing concern about global warming.  

Here are the key details: 

  • The Environmental Protection Agency will set national emission standards by next March for carbon dioxide and three other global warming pollutants from new cars, SUVs, minivans, and pick-ups. These standards will make good on the Supreme Court's 2007 ruling that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and EPA's determination last month that global warming pollution is dangerous to our health and our environment.  
  • Acting jointly with EPA, the Department of Transportation will set stronger gas mileage standards for the same vehicles, under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. These nationwide EPA and DOT standards will ramp up over five years in model year 2012 through 2016.  
  • The federal government will give the green light to California's landmark clean car standards - standards NRDC worked for seven years to get adopted. In turn, California has agreed that if the federal standards are as stringent as the state's, then California will treat compliance with the federal standards as compliance with its own.  
  • The car makers have agreed to drop their lawsuits against California and other states that have adopted California's standards. They've lost all their cases so far, but ending their litigation is worth something. And the automakers have also agreed not to sue over the new federal standards. 

What's not to like?  President Obama has delivered an agreement that gets car makers, states, environmentalists, and the federal government behind standards that will deliver clean, high-mileage cars nationwide.   

What a gas!