When thinking about the Bush administration, there are many “special” descriptive words that come to mind. Environmentally-friendly is definitely not one of them.
Despite claims that he would promote clean fuel technology in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, George W. Bush did quite the opposite. He did everything from opposing the Kyoto Protocol, a multi-lateral United Nations agreement that would impose mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to calling for a lift on offshore drilling bans when gas prices shot up during the summer of 2008.
Although noting the spike in gas prices and a need to break our dependence on foreign oil as the reasons for lifting these bans, the public was not fooled by Bush’s mock concern. The only ones who would have gained from the removal of the bans were (you guessed it) the oil companies. Perhaps it was because Bush believes global warming is not a real issue, and asserts that the debate still rages regarding whether it is natural or man-made.
Even after all that, one of the past administration’s most controversial environmental decisions was the denial of California’s request to set stricter fuel efficiency standards than those stipulated by federal law. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, despite unanimous recommendations to approve the waiver made by the agency’s legal and technical staffs. The proposed emissions rules would have cut vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. Stephen L. Johnson, Bush’s EPA administrator who denied the petition, believed that Bush’s law would do more to address global warming through a “clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules…” Sure, that sounds reasonable.
Yet it makes you wonder whether the decision had anything to do with the fact that the auto industry had vigorously lobbied the White House and the EPA to block the California regulation (the Detroit News reported that chief executives of Ford and Chrysler had met with former Vice President Cheney to discuss the issues at hand). However, even with the backlash from lawyers, environmentalists and politicians alike, the administration stood by its decision.
Luckily in 2009, we are able to turn toward a brighter future for the country, especially in terms of environmental policies. Last week President Barack Obama directed regulators to move forward on approving applications made by California and 13 other states to set strict auto emission and fuel standards. This sharp contrast from Bush policies shows Obama’s commitment to following through with his campaign promises from this past election season. His memorandum is said to order the EPA to reconsider the Bush administration’s rejection of California’s application, while avoiding the outright ordering of the decision to be reversed. However, despite being a request rather than a demand, EPA regulators are still expected to comply after a formal review process. Once the EPA approves the requests, manufacturers will have to revamp their models and begin producing and selling cars that get higher mileage than the national standard.
The change in White House policy is one that should be celebrated, especially by those of us who would like to breathe clean air here in California. With this decision about to take effect and many other states looking to model California’s standards, auto companies are once again complaining that they will be subject to a confusing array of environmental laws when manufacturing vehicles. Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, states in a New York Times article that “applying California standards to several states would create a complex, confusing and very difficult situation for manufacturers.”
Obviously the only thing Territo is really worried about here is not the difficulty of producing more fuel-efficient cars; with technology moving so fast that it’s difficult to keep up sometimes, American auto companies definitely have the means and the technology to go green. The only thing standing in the way is the auto-companies’ greed for more profits.
Although the rules would not take effect immediately and will require months of legal review, it is nice to know that California and other states as well can look forward to responsible standards that will help us take one step closer to a greener and more environmentally-friendly way of life. That in itself is something to celebrate.

Lila Kooklan is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at lkooklan@uci.edu.

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