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Washington Watch

Bush Orders Regulatory Action on Climate, Fuel Efficiency

Too Little, Too Late?

Well, Too Little For Sure

In the wake of a Supreme Court rebuke, President Bush signed an executive order Monday requiring the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal regulators to develop regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions by motor vehicles.

In what was a first for an environmental issue, Bush made the announcement from the White House Rose Garden. "I'm directing the EPA and the departments of Transportation, Energy and Agriculture to take the first steps toward regulations that would cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions for motor vehicles," the president said. The agencies will use his State of the Union proposal to cut gasoline consumption by 20% in 10 years in drafting the new regulations, which must be completed by the end of 2008.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and that the Bush administration broke the law by refusing to limit emissions of the gases (BWC reported on this in the April 18th issue of 'Kicking Asphalt').

Bush also used the occasion to encourage Congress to take action to boost corporate average fuel-economy rules, known as CAFE standards, for motor vehicles, as well as expanding the supply of renewable and alternative fuels required under law.

Congressional Democrats and environmental groups said the move was too little, too late.

"Calling on federal agencies to work toward an undefined goal, that could be delayed until the eleventh hour of his presidency is not leadership; it is an inadequate directive that emphasizes appearance over action," said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski, a former colleague of Better World Club President Mitch Rofsky.

Meanwhile, Congress has taken its own steps toward increasing mileage standards. The Senate Commerce Committee recently passed legislation that would require a 40% increase in the fuel standard for passenger vehicles by 2020.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, dismissed Bush's executive order as little more than an exercise in "interagency dynamics" and said that lawmakers were ready to take steps on their own.

"The absence of any standards in today's announcement is a reason why Americans will be looking to Congress for stronger leadership on energy policy," Bingaman said. "Indeed, solid bipartisan majorities in two Senate committees recently reported bills to create specific, meaningful new standards for biofuels and vehicle fuel economy."

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., said that it was time to consider "going beyond CAFE" by "encouraging and even requiring renewable fuels, new technologies and new ways to reduce carbon emissions."

As reported in the January issue of 'Kicking Asphalt', in his State of the Union address, Bush called for reducing gas consumption by 20% in the next decade by increasing the mandate for renewable and alternative fuels to 35 billion gallons by 2017 and increasing fuel efficiency standards.

The auto industry contends that White House and congressional proposals for increased fuel standards are too onerous. Auto executives, joined by the United Auto Workers, have called for an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that could mark a shift away from fuel-efficiency standards toward a system aimed at reducing automakers' carbon profile.