President Obama announced plans today to extend federal auto fuel economy and emissions rules through 2025 and develop new regulations for large trucks.
The president also called for additional federal support for advanced automobile infrastructure, particularly for electric plug-in vehicles, and for increased regulation of non-greenhouse gas pollutants from motor vehicles.
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama touted the effort as an "essential part" of his overall energy and climate strategy and as a way to boost domestic manufacturing.
"The nation that leads in the clean energy economy will lead in the global economy, and I want America to be that nation," Obama said.
While the memorandum the president signed today instructs federal regulators to get down to work on the next round of passenger vehicle standards and the new rules for commercial buses and trucks, the order is short on details.
According to administration officials, the memorandum does not include specific miles-per-gallon targets for either the next round of auto standards or the new truck rules.
"We're at the starting gate here," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters. "Stay tuned."
Under the plan, U.S. EPA and the Department of Transportation will start work on rules for passenger cars and light-duty trucks, which would go into effect for model year 2017 and take off where the last set of rules ends. The two agencies would also expand the program to include medium- and heavy-duty trucks for the first time, beginning with model year 2014 and running through 2018. The agencies hope to finalize the truck rules by 2012.
The memorandum also directs EPA to reduce non-greenhouse gas pollutants from motor vehicles, including nitrous oxide, particulates and sulfur dioxide, and for the Energy Department to help boost development of electric vehicle infrastructure.
The announcement comes roughly a year after Obama brokered a compromise among automakers, environmentalists and states to clear the way for a first-ever federal greenhouse gas emissions standard for passenger cars and trucks that was finalized last month. That rule will also ramp up the fuel economy of the nation's passenger fleet to 35.5 mpg by 2016, four years ahead of the schedule Congress laid out in a 2007 energy law.
While the presidential memorandum instructs EPA and DOT to work toward model year 2025, by law, the administration can only set fuel economy rules for five model years at a time, making at least two separate rulemakings likely. Federal regulators are required to issue rules at least 18 months before the model year being regulated hits dealer showrooms, meaning the 2017 standards would not have to be finalized until April 2015.
Automakers have lobbied the government to give them as much lead time as possible for the new rules and were quick to applaud today's announcement, saying that it will give them the certainty they need to continue to invest in advanced technologies such as plug-in vehicles.
"The federal government is looking 15 years down the road and uniting all the diverse stakeholders to work towards the same national goal," said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Detroit's Big Three, Toyota Motor Co. and a several other carmakers. "Introducing new technologies and fuels to consumers takes time to get up to speed. So we need to start now."
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) echoed the automakers, saying that this announcement will provide simplicity and predictability for the automakers as they plan their fleets. "This is going to continue one national standard and not [create] a patchwork," she said. "It sends the right market signals to the manufacturers that will allow them to produce these products to scale."
Larger climate effort
The announcement comes as the administration continues to work with BP PLC to deal with an ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that is spewing untold amounts of crude from the seafloor. The administration has come under scrutiny both for how it has responded to the disaster and for the president's previous announcement that he plans to increase offshore drilling.
Today's news allowed Obama to shift the conversation -- at least temporarily -- to his efforts to push the U.S. auto industry to make more advanced cars and trucks, something that has long been a key pillar of his overall energy strategy.
"This will bring down costs for transporting goods, serving businesses and consumers alike. It will reduce pollution," he said. "And ... this standard will spur growth in the clean energy sector. We know how important that is."
Still, the president said the auto effort is "an essential part of our energy strategy, but it's not a substitute for other steps."
Obama added that he will continue to work with Congress on passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation. "I intend to work with members of both parties to pass a bill this year," he said.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the "American Power Act," a comprehensive energy and climate bill, said the auto standards and the climate bill would work in tandem to reduce the nation's dependence on oil.
"Every American is sick of sending $100 million every day to Iran for oil. Reducing our dependence is essential to our security," Kerry said.
"Today, the Obama administration has taken a key step forward for America's energy security -- an essential step towards completing that mission," he said. "Passing comprehensive energy independence and climate legislation in the Senate this year is our next critical test."
Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, echoed the call for a climate bill. "The Senate must play its part by passing additional oil independence measures such as those in the American Power Act," he said. "A Senate bill combined with President Obama's new proposal can convert oil reductions from gallons of oil to barrels of oil."
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-author of the House-passed climate bill, and environmentalists also lauded Obama's announcement, citing the massive Gulf spill as evidence of the need to slash U.S. oil consumption.
"As we have learned in the past month, even a dependence on domestically produced oil is a dangerous one," Markey said. "These new standards will help to ensure that one day, we will no longer have to import oil from countries who wish to harm us, or remove it from a mile beneath the ocean off our shores."
David Doniger, policy director for the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Obama's directive marks a major step toward curbing the nation's oil dependence and cutting global warming emissions.
"The cars and trucks on the nation's roads and highways account for more than 60 percent of the oil we use and more than 25 percent of our carbon pollution," Doniger said. "These steps are especially welcome in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico."
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.