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Meanwhile, progress in cutting auto pollution

In the midst of the ruckus over the debt ceiling, Barack Obama announced strong new fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. This is something of a “man bites dog” story at a time of major cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress’s apparent inability to avoid a federal default. TIME’s Michael Grunwald writes that the standards represent “a big victory in the fight to reduce our foreign oil addiction, our carbon emissions, and our gasoline costs.” The success in writing such an ambitious law — that cars must go 55 miles per gallon by 2025 – seems largely due to the fact that Detroit automakers are literally indebted to the Obama administration, not to mention efforts by California to up tailpipe emission standards.

The Minn Post’s Mark Clayton reports that the almost-doubling of fuel efficiency means not just a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption, but a 50 percent cut in carbon pollution. The 55 mph figure is almost the perfect compromise. Environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council wanted 62 mph by 2025 and automakers had first said the highest they could go was 45 mph. It’s kind of amazing that Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson could introduce these new standards at a time when House Republicans want to cripple EPA’s regulatory power and actually reduced the agency’s funding by about 15 percent in the last-minute deal on the 2011 budget.

Of course, Detroit’s big three automakers were rescued from collapse by the administration: the president made his initial fuel efficiency standard rules just a couple of months after the Detroit bailout. Any grousing from Michigan should be drowned out by relief at a revitalized automobile economy.

Another major influence on the new standards was California’s role in first limiting tailpipe emissions. The administration had to either continue prohibiting California’s regulations or, in essence, adopt them nationally. The administration chose the latter, and it’s one of the EPA’s boldest steps. One wonders, then, how the agency might react if a state or local government develops their own substantive rules for greenhouse gas emissions from, say, coal-fired power plants.

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