The Transportation Department will follow the lead of the White House's top climate and environmental officials when it comes to meeting President Obama's global warming agenda, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said today.
LaHood told a group of state transportation officials that while he has already taken part in a number of meetings to discuss climate change legislation with Obama, DOT would likely take a back seat in the climate debate.
"We've really taken all of our cues from Carol Browner," he said, referring to the White House coordinator for energy and climate issues.
LaHood said Browner and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson would most likely do the heavy lifting when it comes to meeting Obama's climate goals. DOT is "in the room, we're at the table, but we probably have less of a role than perhaps some of these other agencies do," he said at the Washington forum.
DOT instead will focus on finalizing new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards for the auto industry.
LaHood said his agency was working to finish the rulemaking for model year 2011 by this April's deadline. "We're going to move that out the door," he said. "We're going with what the president asked us to do with respect to CAFE standards."
Under the proposed rulemaking issued by DOT last year, carmakers would have to raise their fuel economy by 25 percent by 2015. The proposal would push automakers more than halfway to the minimum goal set by Congress of an average of 35 mpg by 2020.
In one of the first steps on his global warming agenda, Obama ordered LaHood to finalize the 2011 standard and to begin a separate rulemaking process for later years that considers a range of legal, scientific and technological issues -- leaving room for the standards to grow more stringent.
But comments from Browner last weekend suggest that even DOT's role in crafting the auto standards may shrink.
She said that Obama is considering a nationwide policy for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles that would rely on a national suite of environmental restrictions linking the implementation of the new CAFE standards with a California emissions law that more than a dozen states are hoping to adopt if EPA grants California the right to enforce it (ClimateWire, Feb. 23).
Under the Clean Air Act, California is the only state that can enforce its own standards -- but only with an EPA waiver. The Bush administration denied California the waiver, but Obama has ordered EPA to review the case. If California receives the waiver, other states would then be permitted to enforce the same tailpipe standard.