Obama’s Clean Car Announcement: The End of the Little Ice Age in Washington

President Obama just announced that he wants the Environmental Protection Agency to move quickly to review the Bush administration's denial of the right of California and at least 13 other states to set global warming pollution standards for new cars. This is a major step forward in the fight against climate change, and I am proud to say NRDC has played a principal role in this welcome new direction.

For close to six years, NRDC has led a legal battle to allow states to adopt California's strict standards. It was part of NRDC's strategy to gain support for climate action by working from the state level on up to Congress. It is a strategy that is proving to be very effective.

Back in 2002, NRDC worked closely with California Assembly member Fran Pavley to draft the clean car bill, the nation's first law designed to cut heat-trapping exhaust from new vehicles. We then mobilized an army of volunteer advocates to work in the statehouse to ensure that it was enacted

Once the law was passed, we knew right away that it would be challenged in every conceivable form by the auto industry and the Bush administration.

This was, after all, what my colleague David Doniger calls the darkest, coldest part of the Little Ice Age in climate policy in Washington. Congress was against us. The president was against us. The administration was trying to slam the door on the one law that a future administration could use to tackle global warming. They wanted to take the Clean Air Act off the table so that we would have to shoulder the burden of passing an entirely new law.

But NRDC took a role in leading state lawyers and environmental groups through a series of victories against the auto industry. First we beat them with the Supreme Court decision declaring that the EPA had the authority to regulate global warming pollution. Then we beat them when the auto industry sued Vermont for adopting California's standards. And then we beat them again when they brought the same lawsuit in California.

These lawsuits were our strategic move to keep the spark from being snuffed out during that dark time. Now that dark time has passed.

President Obama has made it clear with today's announcement that he is committed to confronting global warming and putting American on track to build and drive cleaner, more competitive cars. And judging from what Rep. Henry Waxman said two weeks ago, it is likely Congress will be voting on a national global warming law within the year. Finally, the end of the Little Ice Age in Washington has arrived.