The President directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture to work together 'to protect the environment with respect to greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, nonroad vehicles, and nonroad engines, in a manner consistent with sound science, analysis of benefits and costs, public safety, and economic growth,' the Executive Order states.
The President's new policy is based on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court April 2 in Massachusetts v. EPA that the Bush administration failed to follow the requirements of the Clean Air Act when it refused to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
Announcing his new policy at the White House today, President Bush said, 'Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must take action under the Clean Air Act regarding greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. So today, I'm directing the EPA and the Department of Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture to take the first steps toward regulations that would cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, using my 20-in-10 plan as a starting point.'
The president announced his '20-in-10 plan' in January during his State of the Union address. It aims to cut America's gasoline usage by 20 percent over the next 10 years.
Bush has sent Congress a proposal that would meet this goal in two steps. First, a mandatory fuel standard that requires 35 billion gallons of renewable and other alternative fuels by 2017. 'That's nearly five times the current target,' he said.
The second step is an increase in fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and cars.
'The steps I announced today are not a substitute for effective legislation,' Bush said today. 'Members of my Cabinet, as they begin the process toward new regulations, will work with the White House, to work with Congress, to pass the 20-in-10 bill.'
Developing regulations will require 'coordination across many different areas of expertise,' Bush said today.
'This is a complicated legal and technical matter, and it's going to take time to fully resolve. Yet it is important to move forward, so I have directed members of my administration to complete the process by the end of 2008.' Bush's term of office expires January 20, 2009.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, 'This is a complex issue, and EPA will ensure that any possible rulemaking impacting the emissions from all new mobile sources throughout the entire United States will adhere to federal law.'
Johnson said that while the 20-in-10 plan would serve as a guide, 'we have not reached any conclusions about what any final rule will look like.'
'We will solicit comment on a proposed rule from a broad array of stakeholders and other interested members of the public,' he said. 'Our ultimate decision must reflect a thorough consideration of public comments and an evaluation of how it fits within the scope of the Clean Air Act.'
'While this is the first regulatory step,' said Johnson, 'it builds on the Bush administration’s unparalleled financial, international and domestic commitments to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
'Since 2001, EPA and the entire administration have invested more than $37 billion to study climate change science, promote energy-efficient and carbon dioxide-reducing technologies, and fund tax incentive programs,' Johnson said. 'That’s more money than any other country in the world has spent to address this global challenge.'
On Capitol Hill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, 'The President's announcement today is one more in a long series of pronouncements claiming to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Yet after six years of failed energy policies that have favored Big Oil, the American people are still left with record gas prices and record dependence on foreign oil.'
'It appears that the President wants to run out the clock to the end of his term without addressing our energy needs, because the executive order will do nothing to promote energy independence. Instead,' Pelosi said, 'it is clearly designed to bog down the Environmental Protection Agency in a bureaucratic interagency process that will ensure that no steps are taken to regulate greenhouse gases from motor vehicles.'
'Here in the House, we are working to develop legislation that will reduce energy dependence and global warming emissions; we will introduce a package of initiatives that will make this July 4th Energy Independence Day.'
Congressman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, today welcomed President Bush’s reiteration of his '20-in-10' plan, which includes a goal of increasing fuel economy standards by four percent a year for 10 years, but warned that such a goal will never be achieved unless this requirement is made mandatory through legislation.
'After six years of hemming and hawing on setting fuel economy standards, the President has suddenly discovered the regulatory powers he has had all along,' Markey said.
'Only asking for agency heads to take the first steps towards new rules will leave motor vehicle fuel economy stuck in neutral until Bush’s successor takes office,' Markey added.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, 'Six years ago this week, the Bush-Cheney secret task force made up of oil and energy company lobbyists released its report on the nation's energy policy. Since then, the administration has rolled back environmental regulations, ignored climate change and under-funded the energy research budget. Meanwhile, our oil dependency and consumption have grown, harming our national security and leaving America vulnerable to price shocks and supply disruptions.'
'Democrats are committed to achieving greater energy independence - an issue this administration and past Republican Congresses have failed to adequately address. In the coming weeks, we will move forward with bipartisan legislation that will increase the production of clean renewable fuels, improve energy efficiency, punish gas price gougers and support research on greenhouse gas capture and storage,' said Reid.
The oil savings that might be obtained by the President's proposal may be less than the expected savings from the projected increases in new vehicle fuel economy due to market-driven increases in the sale of unconventional vehicle technologies, such as flex-fuel, hybrid, and diesel vehicles, and a slowdown in the growth of new light truck sales, Reid said based on figures in the Energy Department's Annual Energy Outlook 2006.
Environmental groups were quick to criticize the new policy. Friends of the Earth, one of the original plaintiffs in Massachusetts v. EPA, said the President's new policy does little to address the Supreme Court's ruling.
Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder said, 'The President’s proposal focuses primarily on replacing oil with renewable energy sources such as corn ethanol, and the facts are clear – substituting most formulations of corn ethanol for oil does almost nothing to reduce greenhouse emissions.'
'Additionally, 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,' Blackwelder said.
Some view the Bush policy as a step backward that is weaker than existing targets that were signed into law in 1992 by his father, President George Bush Sr.
'The President's policy is a retreat, not an advance. It would weaken existing federal targets for alternatives to petroleum fuel, not improve them,' said Julie Teel, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate, Air, Energy Program. 'This shameful ploy proves that the president still doesn’t understand the dire consequences of global warming.'
The 1992 law required the replacement of 10 percent of petroleum motor fuel consumption with alternative fuels by the year 2000 and 30 percent by 2010.
To attain this goal, the law first required a replacement of 75 percent of federally owned vehicles with alternative fuel vehicles by 1999. The Department of Energy was then required to determine if extension of the regulation to municipal and corporate fleets is necessary to meet the national 30 percent reduction target. If so, the Department is required to institute alternative fuel standards for municipal and corporate fleets.
The federal government violated the Energy Policy Act by not converting its own fleets to alternative fuel vehicles and not establishing a municipal and corporate standard when it was clear that federal action alone was insufficient.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth sued over these violations, winning one court order in 2002 and two more in 2006 requiring compliance with both aspects of the law.
In response, the federal government has increased the number of fuel efficient vehicles in its fleets. However, it still has not set alternative fuel vehicle requirements for municipal and corporate fleets.
Instead, on March 15, 2007, it issued a ruling which delayed the compliance date for a 30 percent reduction from 2010 to 2030. The rule is opposed by environmental groups and Teel says it is 'likely' to be challenged in court.
Frank O'Donnell of the nonprofit Clean Air Watch interpreted the Executive Order as 'an attempt to sideswipe the greenhouse gas standards developed by the state of California and adopted by 11 other states. The Bush administration apparently wants to knock those standards off the road.'
O'Donnell says because the four federal agencies are expected to concur on any news regulation, and must do so under the direction of the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality
'In other words,' O'Donnell said, 'the White House has just wrapped the EPA in a straitjacket of bureaucratic process.'
The nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum used the president's announcement to promote diesel fuel as part of the fuel economy and global warming solution.
Allen Schaeffer, the Forum's executive director, said, 'Diesel cars, trucks and SUVs deliver superior fuel economy - typically 20 percent to 40 percent better than a comparable gasoline vehicle - without requiring drivers to sacrifice the power and performance Americans demand.
'The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that America could save up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day - an amount equivalent to the oil we currently import from Saudi Arabia - if one-third of U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs were diesel-powered,' he said.
Manufacturers, including Dodge, General Motors, Ford, BMW Group, Mercedes, Jeep, Audi, Volkswagen, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai and Mitsubishi, are planning to introduce new clean diesel vehicles in the next two to three years.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, GMA, supports the goal of reducing America's reliance on fossil fuels but cautioned that a sharp increase the use of corn for ethanol could hamper the ability of the food industry to provide consumers, both in the U.S. and around the world, with areliable and affordable supply of food.
Cal Dooley, GMA president and CEO, said, 'Consumers have already seen an increase in the cost of food, as corn traditionally used for livestock feed and processed food is increasingly used for fuel. In fact, the price of corn has nearly doubled in the last nine months.'
'In addition to its inflationary impact, there are many unintended, but nonetheless important, consequences of an ambitious corn ethanol strategy,' Dooley warned.
'A 35 billion gallon ethanol mandate will require a substantial increase in the use of fossil fuels for corn and ethanol processing and transportation, as well as an additional 15 million acres devoted to corn crops, which will encroach on agriculturally marginal and environmentally sensitive land,' he said.
To meet this mandate, the U.S. would have to cut its corn exports to ensure an adequate supply of corn for food and fuel, Dooley said. 'Such a reduction will result in a decrease in the amount of food available overseas, which in turn will have a negative affect on world hunger.'
On a conference call with reporters today, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns attempted to assure the public that ethanol manufacture would not take food out of people's mouths.
'We've already put forth a Farm Bill proposal that would increase funding for renewable energy by $1.6 billion. Without question, the President's proposals represent the most significant commitment to renewable energy that's ever been proposed in farm legislation,' Johanns said. 'It's focused on cellulosic ethanol, which is where we believe the next step is in terms of ethanol development. And it's also one of the building blocks that will help us achieve 20-in-10.'
Cellulosic ethanol is not made from corn kernels but is distilled from the fermentation of sugars from the entire plant, not just the grains. Perennial grasses, corn stover, sugar can bagasse, logging slash, and yard trimmings can all be sources of cellulosic ethanol.
The Farm Bill proposals would expand research into cellulosic ethanol, to improve biotechnology, and create a better crop for conversion to renewable energy and to improve that conversion process, making it more efficient and, therefore, more commercially viable,' Johanns said.
The American Petroleum Institute, API, an industry trade association, said the industry has invested heavily to meet and exceed the federal requirement for ethanol-blended gasoline. 'In 2006, we used 25 percent more than required - and, according to Energy Information Administration estimates, will exceed the 2007 requirement as well.'
The API says that the role of ethanol as a transportation energy source will be limited until technology breakthroughs permit economic production of cellulosic ethanol from biomass.
'The timing of such breakthroughs is highly speculative,' the API said. 'There is no guarantee that technologies would emerge to enable large-scale economic cellulosic ethanol production in the next decade and ensure reliable energy for U.S. consumers at affordable prices.'
It is 'critical' that any alternative fuels standard include technology and feasibility reviews that would trigger adjustments to mandates to ensure companies and consumers are not penalized if obstacles arise that prevent meeting usage targets, said the API.
Chris Somerville, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University and director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology, estimates it will take seven to 10 years to produce cellulosic ethanol at competitive prices.
'It is certainly possible to achieve Bush's goals technically,' he said. 'The question in my mind is whether investors are ready to put up the money required to make it happen.'