U.S. President Barack Obama is moving on the
environmental front, taking steps to cut auto emissions, and promote
fuel-efficient cars. It is all part of a plan to boost energy independence,
while tackling the problem of climate change.
President Obama says it is time for action on energy and the environment.
"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over," he said. "My administration will not deny facts. We will be guided by them."
He says the government must set tougher fuel efficiency guidelines, and take stronger steps to curb the automobile emissions blamed for global warming.
"Year after year, decade after decade we have chosen delay over decisive action," President Obama said. "Rigid ideology has overruled sound science. Special interests have overshadowed common sense."
Mr. Obama says he wants automakers to improve fuel efficiency much more quickly than the timetable put forward by former President George Bush. He also wants to make it easier for states like California to put in place auto emission standards that go beyond federal guidelines.
He says California and about a dozen other states tried to set a higher standard, but Washington stood in the way - a reference to actions taken by his predecessor.
"I want to be clear from the beginning of this administration that we have made our choice." he said. "America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet."
But critics argue now is not the time to put an extra burden on a struggling industry that directly employs hundreds of thousands of people, and recently appealed for an emergency infusion of government funds.
"It is a serious challenge for the industry," said Dave Cole, who is with the Center for Automobile Research. "Whether it really is going to solve the problem of global climate change is another issue. We know that it would have a very marginal impact."
But environmentalists say the industry should not fear the change in policy.
"They do have the technology now to meet the California standards," said Michelle Robinson, who is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This will just require the industry to put that technology to work sooner."
President Obama says he is aware of the unique challenges facing the auto industry, and the need to protect taxpayer money being spent to help General Motors and Chrysler. He says the goal is not to hinder the recovery of the auto industry, but rather to help America's automakers prepare for the future.