WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will clear the way today for Maryland, California and several other states to implement auto emissions rules designed to slash global warming pollution, sources familiar with the decision said yesterday.
The move is significant on two fronts: It could empower states to set tougher standards in targeting emissions, which are blamed for contributing to global climate change; and it would be another swift reversal by Obama of Bush administration policy, this time on energy.
In Maryland, state officials have said the increased controls would eventually reduce greenhouse gas production in Maryland by 7.8 million tons per year - the equivalent of shutting down a 1,200-megawatt coal-burning power plant.
"This is a tremendous step forward to help our nation begin to control its energy future and to address global climate change," said Gov. Martin O'Malley, who had just taken office when the state legislature approved Maryland's tougher auto emission standards in 2007. "Maryland is proud to be among the first states to enact these regulations." California's standards would force automakers to produce cars that are far more efficient than those called for under current federal rules - an average of 3 miles per gallon more by 2015 and 7 mpg more by 2020, by some calculations.
Maryland passed a law in 2007 that requires the state to follow California's lead. California has unique authority under federal law to set vehicle emissions standards different from national limits, as long as it obtains a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. Maryland and other states must follow federal standards or, with a waiver, adopt California's regulations.
The Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency denied that permission, arguing it was more effective to have a national strategy in curbing greenhouse gases.
State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the EPA exceeded its authority by not allowing California the waiver. "This is appropriate because it's the proper move legally and also to the environment and the releasing of admissions of greenhouse gases. I hoped it would happen. I can't believe it's happening this fast."
Plunging into his first full week at president, Obama is expected to reveal the auto-emissions policy this morning in the East Room of the White House. The official familiar with the details spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan had not yet been announced.
Daniel Weiss, who directs climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, praised the new administration for pressing ahead with ambitious fuel economy goals.
"President Obama's actions will reduce our oil dependence by speeding the production of the gas-sipping cars of the future," Weiss said. "He understands that oil and gasoline prices will rise with our recovering economy, and more fuel-efficient cars will help families cope with higher prices. And other countries will want to buy our more-efficient vehicles."
Baltimore Sun reporter Brent Jones contributed to this article.