EPA sets fuel efficiency hearing

David Shepardson | Detroit News

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to move quickly to consider a request by California and 13 states to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016 — a measure that would require automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of light trucks and passenger cars.

The EPA has set a public hearing on the issue on March 5 and will take public comments through April 6.

The hearing comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s decision last month to order the EPA to reconsider the Bush Administration’s decision to deny California and the other states a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement new standards.

In a Friday notice about the public hearing, the EPA repudiated its prior denial saying it “significantly departed from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions and from the agency’s history.”

California had been granted more than 50 waivers over the past 30 years and never received a complete denial. California’s waiver would require automakers to boost fuel economy to a fleetwide 35.7 miles per gallon by 2016 and 42.5 mpg by 2020.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency would conduct an “impartial review” of California’s request.`

“It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law,” Jackson said.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that if the states get EPA approval, they would immediately put their requirements into effect with no changes in the ramp up until 2016.

The standards — drafted in 2004 — were supposed to begin with the 2009 model year.

“Nothing I saw changed the views that I had before is that there’s a lot of great technology that we need to bring on,” Nichols said in an interview this week after touring the Washington Auto Show.

The EPA said the agency is specifically seeking comment on automaker lead time.

California has said its requirements would reduce auto sales by 4.7 percent by 2020 because complying with the new standards would increase the average cost of vehicles. “Our standards are not the problem. Our standards are part of the solution if we do it right,” Nichols said.

Sue Cischke, Ford Motor Co.’ group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety, said the automaker would face significant hurdles in complying.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a strong warning that global warming will have “substantial human health impacts” within the next few decades. The warning came in a report released only days after the same agency declined to regulate global warming-causing greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

“Today typifies the climate-change schizophrenia in the Bush administration,” said U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “On one hand, government scientists are saying that global warming poses grave threats to our health and our welfare, and, on the other hand, [there] are White House political hacks following the oil industry’s bidding to do nothing.”

The EPA report warns that rising temperatures will cause air quality to worsen in Eastern cities, as well as more deaths among the elderly, the poor and inner-city dwellers during future heat waves.

“It’s going to be hotter; it’s going to be hotter sooner in the year than it was in the past,” said co-author Kristie Ebi. Young people now living near Washington “[are] going to look back and think back about how nice the summers used to be,” she said. “Within 20, 30 years, on average, the [public] should notice that it’s warmer.”

Global warming is also likely to lead to more frequent and powerful hurricanes, dwindling water supplies in the West, loss of coastal land to rising sea levels and storm surges, and the more rapid spread of food- and water-borne illnesses.

According to the EPA’s former deputy associate administrator, Jason K. Burnett, the president’s deputy chief of staff for policy originally approved an EPA decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as air pollutants, a move supported by several cabinet members and senior administration officials. Before the decision could be made official, however, the White House prohibited the EPA from taking action.

U.K.: Obama aims for oil independence


US President Barack Obama has called for US energy independence, saying reliance on foreign oil and global warming posed threats to the country.

Outlining his energy priorities, he said the country would not be held “hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet”.

He called for greater fuel efficiency and an “energy economy” aimed at creating millions of jobs.

He also ordered a review of whether states can set car emission standards.

This challenges a Bush administration decision which favoured a national standard for vehicle pollution.

At his first White House news conference since becoming president, Mr Obama said he would reverse America’s dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs, but warned there was no “quick fix”.

A customer at a petrol pump

Mr Obama wants fuel efficiency to improve

“We will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence, and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work.”

He added: “Now is the time to meet the challenge of this crossroads of history, by choosing a future safer for our country, prosperous for our planet, and sustainable.”

Mr Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review its refusal of a waiver which had previously allowed California to set its own – stricter – vehicle emission and fuel efficiency standards.

He said California had taken bold moves in implementing the standards.

Mr Obama said: “The days of Washington dragging its heels are over.

“My administration will not deny facts. We will be guided by them.”

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Obama’s Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards


WASHINGTON — President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.

The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and signifies a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Mr. Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.

Mr. Obama’s presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agency’s regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.

Mr. Obama will use the announcement to bolster the impression of a sharp break from the Bush era on all fronts, following his decisions last week to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; tighten limits on interrogation tactics by Central Intelligence Agency officers; order plans to withdraw combat forces from Iraq; and reverse President George W. Bush’s financing restrictions on groups that promote or provide abortion overseas, administration officials said.

Beyond acting on the California emissions law, officials said, Mr. Obama will direct the Transportation Department to quickly finalize interim nationwide regulations requiring the automobile industry to increase fuel efficiency standards to comply with a 2007 law, rules that the Bush administration decided at the last minute not to issue.

To avoid losing another year, Mr. Obama will order temporary regulations to be completed by March so automakers have enough time to retool for vehicles sold in 2011. Final standards for later years will be determined by a separate process that under Mr. Obama’s order must take into consideration legal, scientific and technological factors.

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Obama to Push Process for EPA to Grant States Waiver to Implement Stricter Clean Air Laws

Jake Tapper  | ABC News

ABC News has learned that on Monday President Obama will announce that he’s putting into place a process that will almost certainly ultimately allow California and 13 other states the right to set their own, stricter automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards.

In 2007, the Bush administration’s EPA administrator, Steven Johnson, denied the 14 states — the other 13 are Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and New Jersey — a waiver to set their own clean air standards, overruling EPA staff scientists.

Monday President Obama will issue a presidential memorandum requesting the EPA –and its new administrator, Lisa Jackson, who was confirmed by the Senate on Friday — to reconsider the Bush EPA’s 2007 denial of the waiver to the states. President Obama will officially request that the EPA undertake the legal process for reconsidering the waiver, which will include an opportunity for interested parties to comment. The final EPA decision could take several months.

The president will also deliver brief remarks in the morning that deal with the creation of green jobs in his stimulus package:

  • modernizing 75 percent of federal buildings and 2 million homes;
  • doubling enough renewable energy generating capacity to power 6 million American homes;
  • modernizing the nation’s electricity grid will result in more than 3,000 miles of new or modernized transmission lines and 40 million “Smart Meters” in American homes; and
  • launching the Clean Energy Finance Initiative to leverage $100 billion in private sector clean energy investments over three years.

Obama blocks some of Bush’s last-minute environmental decisions

By Jim Tankersley | LA Times

Reporting from Washington — With a short memo on Inauguration Day, President Obama blocked plans to loosen some air quality standards and to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. But he did not stop several other controversial, late-term environmental regulations issued by the Bush administration — at least not yet.

The list of Bush-era environmental rules that survived includes a major tweak to the Endangered Species Act, a first step in opening Western lands to oil shale development, leases for oil and gas drilling near some national parks, and the start of a process to allow new oil rigs off the Atlantic, Gulf, Alaska and California coasts.

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Conservation group sues for walrus protection from climate change



ANCHORAGE, Alaska  — A conservation group is going to court to force the federal government to consider adding the Pacific walrus to the list of threatened species.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Wednesday for failing to act on a petition seeking protection for walruses under the Endangered Species Act.

Walruses are threatened by global warming that melts Arctic sea ice, according to the group, one of the parties that successfully petitioned to list polar bears as threatened. The group also has filed petitions to protect Arctic seals.

The walrus petition was filed in February. The Fish and Wildlife Service was required by law to decide by May 8 whether the petition had merit, which would trigger a more thorough review and a preliminary decision after 12 months. The agency missed the deadline.

Rebecca Noblin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the delay would harm walruses.

“Every day that goes by without protecting the walrus, we’re emitting more greenhouse gases, accelerating the ice melt,” Noblin said.

“In addition to the climate change, the other main threat is oil and gas development that continues to go forward without any consultation regarding walrus,” she said.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said Wednesday the agency anticipates making a decision on the petition soon but has limited resources. Decisions on endangered species listings are driven by litigation, he said, forcing the agency to rank actions by court order rather than species need.

Global warming is blamed for Arctic sea ice shrinking to record low levels.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center said summer sea ice in 2008 reached the second lowest level, 1.74 million square miles, since satellite monitoring began in 1979. The loss was exceeded only by the 1.65 million square miles in 2007.

Like polar bears, listed as a threatened species in May, walruses depend on sea ice to breed and forage.

Walruses dive from ice over the shallow outer continental shelf in search of clams and other benthic creatures. Females and their young traditionally use ice as a moving diving platform, riding it north as it recedes in spring and summer, first in the northern Bering Sea, then into the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

Sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, shared with the Russian Far East, for the last two years receded well beyond the outer continental shelf over water too deep for walruses to dive to reach clams. In the fall of 2007, herds congregated on Alaska and Siberia shores until ice re-formed.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, warming sea temperatures and sea ice loss may also be reducing walrus prey at the bottom of the ocean.

The group hopes a listing could slow plans for offshore petroleum development. Oil companies in February bid on 2.7 million acres in the Chukchi Sea. Other lease sales are planned.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with its Russian counterparts, has nearly completed a comprehensive population count of walruses. The numbers are anticipated in the coming weeks, possibly by the end of the year, Woods said.