Obama 'lights the fuse' on climate change debate: Updated

The Obama administration’s decision today to give states more power to regulate auto emissions is — not surprisingly — being embraced by the environmental community:
Environmental Defense Fund direct David Yarnold called it “a bold first step toward fixing some tough problems.”

“The President’s announcement, along with his determination to move forward on a cap on carbon pollution, shows us that he really gets it. I think President Obama, the business community, and the American people are tired of the same old arguments and scare tactics – there is an emerging consensus that we need to build a new economy that creates jobs and protects our environment.”

Dan Weiss, from the Center on American Progress:

“President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and fight global warming than President Bush did in eight years. His actions today respond to scientists’ urgent warnings to reduce global warming pollution now before it’s too late. These fuel economy measures come on top of $90 billion of clean energy investments in his economic recovery package. This is a complete reversal of President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science.”

A little background: In 2002 California passed the nation’s first law with binding limits on global warming pollution from passenger vehicles. Thirteen states have adopted California’s standards including Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. But the Bush-era EPA wouldn’t let states go ahead with it. The Obama decision lets states either stick with the federal rules or adopt the California ones.A bill has been introduced in the Texas Legislature to do the same, the second time such a proposal has been made.
FBR Capital Markets said Obama “lights the fuse on the climate debate” with the action, and that today’s actions (getting the EPA to act) are just one of two levers the president can use “to force Congress to the negotiating table on climate change this year.”

” Even before inauguration, campaign and transition advisors to the Administration hinted at the second lever: the April 2007 Supreme Court verdict in Massachusetts v. EPA requires the agency to conduct an “endangerment finding” assessing the risks of GHG emissions from automobiles or publish a rulemaking explaining why climate change does not meet the statutory test of endangering “health and human welfare.”

Update 1
Victor Flatt, an environmental law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said he believes the Obama EPA may do just that:

“After his EPA get their sea legs, there is no doubt in my mind that they will move to make an endangerment finding under the CAA Sec. 108, allowing the president to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases through the clean air act for stationary sources, and also to expand the California standards to the whole country (possibly more rigorously).”

George Morris, president of Morris Energy Advisors, says the move could make California and other states seeking tighter emissions the defacto standard for the whole country. If California chooses to adopt a tougher emissions standard auto makers will have to choose whether to meet those regulations or not sell into that market, which is huge.

“It would be one thing if it’s just, say, Maine taking a tougher position, but California is a big market,” Morris says. “The impact will be a tougher national standard.”

Morris says the move is consistent with what Obama has said he would be doing all along, but notes going through Congress for wide-ranging change would be a tougher fight.

There are a lot of senators and congressmen who have been bought off. It could be easier for him to do this awkward backdoor regulation than get Congress to come along.”

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) expressed disappointment, saying it could “open the door to states setting their own standards, forcing struggling American automakers …. to comply with potentially dozens of different and costly standards across the country.”

“The effect of this policy will be to destroy American jobs at the very time government leaders should be working together to protect and create them. Millions of American jobs will be placed in further jeopardy if automakers are forced to spend billions to comply with potentially dozens of different emissions standards in dozens of different states.”

A state-by-state approach is ok in some instances, says Barry Russell, President and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, such as rules governing fuel blends. But the IPAA sees fuel efficiency standards better addressed at the federal level.

“We believe the most appropriate solution is a national approach. We need a consistent, predictable strategy to effectively deal with global climate issues.”

Update 2:
The American Petroleum Institute says it “supports President Obama’s desire to fortify the nation’s energy security with a comprehensive energy policy” and “stands ready to advance those national goals” but Monday’s announcement “is not the way to go on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Creating a patchwork regulatory structure across multiple states would most likely impose higher costs on consumers, slow economic growth and kill U.S. jobs. The oil and natural gas industry already is doing its part: Since 2000, it has invested $42 billion into zero- and low-carbon research and development – that’s 45% of all spending by U.S. companies and the federal government, combined.

Update 3
Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis said Monday he’s hopeful the Obama administration’s efforts will help the bill he’s introduced to bring Texas up to the California standard. The bill was heard in committees on the House and Senate side during the last session, but it seemed to have more support outside the legislature than within.

“There are two other factors that ought to make it a bit easier for people to sort out where they are on the bill: now, the EPA will be supportive, and last time there was concern about litigation from the automakers. It’s still a possibility but I would be disingenuous of them to ask for a public bailout and then use it to fight an effort to make our economy more fuel efficient,” Ellis said.