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Carmakers urge unified emission standards

Automakers decry the Obama administration's decision to reconsider California's request to waive federal rules. A waiver would let the state impose its own limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

February 04, 2009|Ben Meyerson

WASHINGTON — Car companies brought more than just new vehicles to this year's Washington Auto Show. Executives at Volkswagen and Toyota Motor Corp., for instance, put their political goals on stage alongside fancy concept cars in their push for unified national fuel-efficiency and vehicle emission standards.

The manufacturers took aim Tuesday at the Obama administration's decision last week to reconsider California's request to waive federal rules in favor of the state's own stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

A waiver would allow as many as 20 states to enforce rules that would lead to more fuel-efficient cars than required by federal law.

"We are committed to a fuel-efficient and CO2-reduced vehicle for the future, but we need a clear federal objective," said Stefan Jacoby, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America. He said it would be too costly to meet varying standards in every state.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied California's request in 2007 for a waiver. The EPA said granting it would lead to a patchwork of rules that would be a poor substitute for an all-encompassing national standard.

The California restrictions would reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions 30% from 2002 levels by 2016. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the same regulations, and six more states are considering them.

Irv Miller, a Toyota vice president for environmental policy, said any change in fuel economy and emission rules needed to come from the federal government.

"Let's settle on a standard and move forward," Miller said. "We don't have time to move from one regulation to another. We have to have a single standard for all 50 states."

Margo Oge, EPA's head of transportation and air quality issues, said her agency would soon seek public comment on California's waiver request.

"We will make our decision based on our best understanding of the current situation," Oge said.

However, the auto industry's perception of regulatory uncertainty has spawned a new phenomenon, said Mike Stanton, president of the Assn. of International Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group.

At an industry event Tuesday, Stanton said, "We were all asking the regulators to regulate us, and I don't think that's ever happened before. And we need it!"

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bmeyerson@tribune.com

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