The New Standard: Fleshing Out The Details

By Marc Ambinder

The administration's comprehensive climate change announcement today is being cast in bold, efficacious terms: through 2016, new CAFE standards will take the equivalent of  177 million cars off the road -- or shut down 194 coal plants.

Mindful of the economy, administration officials point to a change in the way standards are measured. No longer will they be corporation-wide; reductions will be expected in each type of automobile, which the White House believes will preserve an element of consumer choice.

Vehicles will cost about $600 more, on average, to ratchet up the standards.

As for California, its waiver request is still percolating through the federal bureaucracy. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will reportedly defer to the new federal standard. Auto companies are also on board with this -- they'll issue a statement supporting the federal standard today. ("Chrysler welcomes the President's announcement of a framework for a single national approach for fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. We thank the Administration for their leadership.")

The administration and stakeholders have been meeting about this for weeks, although they say it is not a direct offspring of similar talks between environmental activists and auto companies brought together by the Aspen Institute.

Why did the auto makers gave in to this? It's easy to understate the pressure; 17% of all C02 emissions in America come out of auto tailpipes. According to a fact sheet prepared by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the new standards -- or, "harmonized NHTSA and EPA standards" would be "attribute-based," which allows the automakers flexibility in designing fleets. Most importantly, it provides "certainty" for long-term planning and gives automakers sufficient lead time to take advantage of existing technology. And then there's the "compliance flexibility measures," which include a variety of different credits for other technologies that use CO2.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/05/the-new-standard-fleshing-out-the-details/17793/