Obama acts to reverse Bush climate moves

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 26, 2009 10:13am EST

1 of 2. President Barack Obama at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex, January 21, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will start reversing former President George W. Bush's climate change policies on Monday with steps to raise fuel efficiency standards and grant states authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

An administration official said late on Sunday that Obama, who took office last week, would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a request by California to impose its own strict limits on automobile carbon dioxide emissions.

The request was denied under the Bush administration, prompting California and several other states to sue. The official said a final decision by the EPA would likely take several months.

Another official familiar with the policy shift said Obama would instruct the EPA to approve the waiver allowing California to impose the rules. The state asked the new administration last week to reconsider its request.

If the EPA reverses the previous ruling, more than 12 U.S. states could proceed with plans to impose strict carbon dioxide limits.

California wants to reduce the emissions by 30 percent by 2016 -- the most ambitious federal or state effort to address global warming.

Ailing carmakers, which have accelerated efforts to build more environmentally friendly vehicles, have fought the California statute, but braced for a policy reversal once Obama won the November 4 election.

Obama promised on the campaign trail to take aggressive action to fight global warming and reduce emissions blamed for heating the earth. He is scheduled to deliver remarks on jobs, energy independence and climate change in the East Room of the White House on Monday.

FUEL EFFICIENCY

The White House official said Obama would also direct the Department of Transportation to move forward with setting 2011 vehicle fuel efficiency standards by March.

The president's memorandum would instruct the agency to reconsider how such standards are set for later years in a separate process, he said.

The Bush administration sought to finish the fuel efficiency regulation by December, but took no action due to the uncertain financial prospects of U.S. automakers.

Automakers, including big foreign manufacturers, have opposed the California waiver on grounds that approving it would create a confusing patchwork of state rules based on tailpipe emissions.

The California statute was intended to take effect for 2009 model year vehicles already in showrooms, while the federal government, according to Obama's order, will have its own new efficiency rules in place by March for cars made between 2011-2015. The federal standards are considered weaker.

Activists welcomed the moves.

"These actions are a clear demonstration that President Obama recognizes the urgency of moving America to clean energy and tackling the climate crisis in 2009," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, promised to work with the EPA to ensure the California waiver moved forward quickly.

Obama has spent his first few days in office overturning his predecessor's policies. On Thursday, he signed an order to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year and he lifted restrictions on Friday on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services abroad.

Shortly after his victory in the November 4 election, Obama reiterated his commitment to bringing the United States firmly back into the fold of nations trying to reach a global agreement to limit emissions once the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol runs out at the end of 2012.

(Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen and John Crawley)

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