California breathin’

We may get some cleaner air to breathe here in Texas thanks to California and President Obama.

Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Bush administration’s refusal to allow California and 13 other states to set the nation’s toughest vehicle emissions standards.

During a ceremony in the White House East Room, Obama signed a directive requiring the agency immediately to review that December 2007 decision denying California permission to limit carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks.

“The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Obama said.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who pushed unsuccessfully for tougher car emissions standards in the 2007 legislative session, says his measure may have a better chance this session now that one key obstacle — federal opposition — is likely to disappear.

“It’s an uphill battle to get the votes in the House and in the Senate,” Ellis acknowledged. “But on my side in the Senate, members who in the past were very reluctant to consider environmental legislation have gotten much more educated, as I’ve seen in private conversations.”

Ellis’ legislation would adopt all of California’s proposed emissions standards, as the 13 other states already have and several more are considering.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, has filed an identical bill in the House.

The bills in question are SB119 and HB776. I don’t know that this will give them a leg up, but it does at least knock down one objection to them. We know Speaker Straus is much more open to green legislation than Tom Craddick was. If Sen. Ellis’ assessment of his colleagues is accurate, then who knows?

Adopting the California standard in Texas would cost new-car buyers about $7 more per month if they financed a car over five years, Ellis said, but they would save up to $18 per month in fuel costs based on $1.74 per gallon of gas.

Many industry groups expressed opposition to the administration’s move.

The American Petroleum Institute said it “supports President Obama’s desire to fortify the nation’s energy security with a comprehensive energy policy” and said that since 2000 the oil and gas industry has invested $42 billion in “zero- and low-carbon” research and development. But the action contemplated in Monday’s announcement isn’t the best approach, the group said.

“Creating a patchwork regulatory structure across multiple states would most likely impose higher costs on consumers, slow economic growth and kill U.S. jobs,” the trading group said in a statement.

And carmakers have complained that developing vehicles that comply would cost billions of dollars.

But if the EPA agrees to California’s standards, Texas likely will be affected regardless of whether the Legislature approves Ellis’ measure. The 14 states that have adopted the tougher emissions standards represent more than half the nation’s population, so the practical effect of EPA approval of California’s rules would be to force automakers to raise fuel efficiency standards across their fleet.

Yeah, that would seem to be the obvious answer to the automakers’ complaint. I mean, nobody is forcing them to maintain two different standards. And let’s face it, when it comes to environmental matters, these guys are a bunch of weasels who generally need to be forced to do the right thing. So forgive me if I am unmoved by their argument.

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