WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama has begun the process of shredding Bush administration climate policies, signing measures to encourage production of fuel-efficient cars and vowing to lead the fight against global warming.
On Monday, he set out on an ambitious path to cutting greenhouse gases, ordering a review of Bush administration roadblocks on tougher state auto-emissions rules and moving towards requiring cars to use less petrol.
His plans coincided with the release of research in which international scientists argued that the damaging effects of climate change were basically irreversible.
‘Today, I’m announcing the first steps on our journey towards energy independence, as we develop new energy, set new fuel-efficiency standards and address greenhouse gas emissions.
‘To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition,’ said Mr Obama.
This was the latest in a flurry of directives to reverse policies set down by his predecessor, Mr George W. Bush, who was reluctant to take control of international efforts to combat climate change.
Mr Obama instructed the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to re-evaluate a proposal by states such as California to enforce their own emissions standards for truck and car exhaust. He also ordered the Department of Transportation to produce guidelines to require US cars to reach average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon (15km per litre) by 2020.
He also touted some US$90 billion (S$136 billion) in clean-energy spending in the stimulus Bill pending in Congress, including a tenfold increase in assistance for developing super-efficient cars.
Greenhouse gases from cars are currently not regulated by the federal government, and the Bush administration opposed state efforts to set restrictions.
Should the EPA grant California, 16 other states and the District of Columbia permission to set a standard for reducing greenhouse gases from cars, experts say federal regulations will soon follow, then limits will be ordered for emissions from refineries and industrial plants.
The move to encourage the design of more fuel-efficient vehicles received a positive nod from the 11-member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
While promising action at home, Mr Obama also made clear he would ask for action from giant developing economies to do more to limit greenhouse gases.
Environmentalists praised Mr Obama.
‘It’s a terrific beginning,’ said Mr David Yarnold, executive director of the Environmental Defence Fund. ‘It fires the starting gun for millions of new jobs, and amplifies the stimulus package and welds it to environmental benefits – and it highlights how those issues are inseparable.’
In another sharp break from Mr Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked former Clinton White House official Todd Stern as envoy for climate change.
He is a veteran of the talks that led to the Kyoto Protocol that was rejected by Mr Bush in 2001.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE