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Vehicle emissions to be cut 30 percent in US staff and wire

President Barack Obama will lay out plans today to cut greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks by 30 percent through 2016, while ending a dispute between the auto industry and California over state-level emissions laws.

The cut in emissions will translate into a fleet averaging about 35 miles per gallon.

The reaction in Southwest Florida was mixed, with some saying it comes at a bad time for the industry and environmentalists saying it is about time.

The announcement fills in a cornerstone of Obama’s vowed reworking of the U.S. auto industry, which he had promised to push toward more efficient models.

What’s still unclear is just how the industry will pay for the improvements, especially with Chrysler surviving on government loans and General Motors Corp. in line to become majority-owned by the U.S. Treasury.

Implementing new environmental standards now may be asking the manufacturers to tackle too many things at once as they fight for survival, said Gethin Jones of North Fort Myers, who worked for GM for 33 years.

"The government keeps moving the bar higher and higher and making it that much harder to be successful," Jones said. "If the government keeps changing the rules, I don’t know how they can keep up."

Jones said new emissions standards would mean new designs and expenses for the makers. It could have waited until the companies had proved they can survive the current crisis.

The announcement by the president today will include executives from automakers and officials from several states.

Dave Large, general manager of Roger Dean Chevrolet, said automakers are up to the challenge of building cleaner, more efficient cars.

"We have come a long way and we are doing better than ever before," Large said.

He said he doubted consumers will see a major impact on sticker prices.

"You still have to price (cars) where they are affordable," Large said.

Bob Goodman, who operates three Saturn dealers in Southwest Florida, said higher standards may be a small challenge for the makers, but it is better than having different plans for different states.

"They have to have a uniform plan," Goodman said. "If they were trying to build for 14 different standards, it would just be ridiculous."

The deal will fulfill a campaign promise by Obama to allow California’s law limiting carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicles to go into effect. The Bush administration’s had blocked a federal waiver that would have allowed the rules to go forward in California, Florida and 12 other states.

"We support reducing vehicle emission standards in any way," said Brad Cornell, Audubon of Florida policy advocate. "Reducing greenhouse emissions is a top priority for us nationally and in Florida. Obviously, in Florida, we have a lot to lose with all of our coastline if sea levels rise."

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 signed a number of executive orders aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions in Florida. One of those orders sought to impose auto-emission standards modeled on California’s. Those tougher standards were opposed by auto manufacturers.

In December 2008, the Florida Environmental Regulations Commission adopted Crist’s proposal for a state clean-car rule. The rules still required legislative approval.

In the just-concluded legislative session, Crist’s proposal was voted out of one Senate committee but did not pass the Legislature.

Though adopted by a state agency, the tougher vehicle emission standards don’t have the rule of law in Florida.

Marti Daltry, regional conservation organizer for the Sierra Club Calusa Group, said it is important to establish tougher national standards now.

"It’s something that we should have done a while back," Daltry said. "I know other countries have higher standards than we do, and we need to get on board and do this. It’s not something we can say, ’Oh, we’ll think about it and get back to you later.’"

Because vehicles emit carbon dioxide any time they burn fuel, the new rules amounted to a mileage standard, something domestic and foreign automakers argued only the federal government had the power to set.

Automakers have been fighting California’s efforts to limit global warming emissions for years, saying the rules were too strict and could lead to a patchwork of rules in different states.

Passenger car requirements have remained unchanged at 27.5 mpg since 1985.

The new rule is expected to let California keep its own program targeting carbon emissions from vehicles.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the administration would measure the progress toward the target.

Additional Facts
Emission Fleet

– Vehicle fleets will have to average 35 miles a gallon by 2016.


– A 2007 law required the 35 miles per gallon average by 2020.


– The average requirement of 27.5 miles per gallon has not changed since 1985.


– Florida’s tougher emission regulations failed to pass the legislature this session.