Bush Directs Agencies to Devise Regulations to Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Prodded by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April, President Bush has ordered four federal agencies to take "the first steps toward regulations" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

On May 14, the president signed an executive order directing EPA and the departments of Transportation, Energy and Agriculture to work together to find ways to reduce gasoline consumption and harmful emissions -- and to complete the process by the end of 2008. The agencies would use as a starting point the president's 20-in-10 plan as outlined in his State of the Union address, a goal of reducing vehicle gasoline use by 20 percent over 10 years. The 20-in10 plan would set a mandatory fuel standard that requires 35 billion gallons of renewable and other alternative fuels by 2017. Additionally, the plan seeks to reform Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. In 2017, this will reduce projected annual gasoline use by up to 8.5 billion gallons, according to the president.

Bush stressed that the agencies should weigh potential economic impacts in crafting regulation. "I've also asked them to listen to public input, to carefully consider safety, science, and available technologies, and evaluate the benefits and costs before they put forth the new regulation," Bush stated.

Critics contend that the president simply delaying measures that he has the power to act on now. Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder stated that by directing his administration to do nothing but study this issue until the end of 2008, when a new president is coming into office, "President Bush passed the buck on global warming at a time when we cannot afford delay."

According to the Sierra Club, 14 states, representing some 40 percent of the U.S. auto market, have adopted California's global warming emissions standards for automobiles. California and the other states are still waiting for permission from EPA to implement them.

Critics also contend that a dramatic increase in biofuels production done without important safeguards in place could result in negative consequences for both the environment and other sectors of the economy.

Congressional Democrats stated they are prepared to move forward with their own energy legislation. "After six years of putting the interests of the oil industry ahead of our national and economic security, we hope the president is finally getting serious about energy. His announcement was mainly about organizing the bureaucracy, but if he brings forward proposals that make legal, economic and environmental sense, we will work with him as we legislate," stated U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

On May 8, the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted on a bill (S. 357) that would revise CAFE standars to achieve a nationwide fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill in June.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.