Only one week into office and U.S. President Barack Obama is charging full speed ahead on fulfilling his campaign promise to bring change to Washington. In an effort to reverse former President Bush’s policy on climate change and take the United States in a new greener direction, Obama asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to review whether states should be allowed to set more stringent emission standards than those that are currently federally mandated. Additionally, Obama directed American automakers to develop more fuel efficient cars and trucks for models with release dates starting in 2011.
More than a dozen states have adopted the more stringent standards set by California which requires a 30 percent cut in emissions and a federal waiver could lead to more states signing on. While environmentalists are understandably thrilled at the direction of the new administration, Obama’s announcement has led to resistance by both automakers and Republicans. The two leading arguments put forth by the opposition are that a reversal in Bush’s order will be costly to automakers in an already struggling economy and state-led emissions requirements creates the possibility of a patchwork of different standards for different states. Alternatively, the automakers want uniform mileage and emission standards set nationwide along with assistance and incentives for car buyers to alleviate the added cost. While environmentalists may be applauding Obama’s announcement, the argument made by the automakers does deserve consideration.
When the Bush administration showed reluctance to legislate any significant curb in tail-pipe emissions and increase fuel efficiency requirements, the effort of states to step in and tackle the issue of greenhouse emissions themselves appeared a win for environmentalists. Furthermore, future U.S. presidents might not be as green-minded as President Obama. In such instances, state-led emission standards can provide the greatest opportunity for environmentalists to bring change to the auto industry by allowing states to set their own bar for the auto companies to meet.
However, should Maryland suddenly decide to set even more stringent standards than California, what does this mean for the automakers? The answer is additional costs and confusion for the auto industry. This will inevitably lead the car companies to try to meet the most stringent standards to avoid a patchwork of different regulations. While this may be a positive result for environmentalists, it also means huge costs anytime a state decides to tighten its requirements beyond the then-set industry standard.
The Obama administration is in a great position to bring change to the U.S. auto industry including the opportunity to institute a nation-wide tightening of emissions beginning with the model put forth by California. This could reduce confusion over state-by-state regulations and lessen the price tag for adjustment.
While I applaud President Obama’s push toward reducing emissions, considering a nationwide approach may prove to be a more effective, less confusing and less costly way to reduce auto emissions nationwide.