Register-Guard editorial: Oregonians can take pride in their state's role in helping to move the rest of the country toward tough new gas mileage standards and the first national limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Oregonians can take pride in their state's role in helping to move the rest of the country toward tough new gas mileage standards and the first national limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski was in Eugene on Tuesday, where he met with The Register-Guard's editorial board. He had earned a place that morning alongside California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, auto industry executives, labor leaders and federal officials at a White House ceremony where President Obama announced new nationwide rules for auto emissions and mileage standards. These are standards that California, along with Oregon and a determined cluster of other states, sought for years to enact over the objections of the auto industry and the Bush administration.

The new rules will require automakers to meet a minimum fuel efficiency standard of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That deadline is four years earlier than required under a law approved by Congress in 2007, a law that the Bush administration had ignored by refusing to write regulations for its enforcement.

The emissions and mileage standards will make a major contribution to curtailing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing U.S. reliance on foreign oil. The rules will reduce nationwide oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels while cutting carbon emissions by 900 million metric tons between now and 2016 — the equivalent of taking 177 million cars off the road.

Oregon played a key role in what President Obama called a historic turning point toward a "clean-energy economy." As this state struggles through a debilitating recession, Obama's announcement was a reaffirming reminder of this state's tradition of environmental leadership — a legacy that includes the nation's first bottle bill, the beach bill and a landmark land use system.

Oregon was one of the first states to join California, which under the Clean Air Act has the right to enforce tougher air pollution standards than the rest of the nation. But that right hinges on California obtaining a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA granted dozens of such waivers over the years, but the Bush administration refused to grant California's request to curb vehicle emissions. Oregon, along with 12 other states and the District of Columbia, had planned to adopt the same standards as California but were thwarted by the EPA's denial.

Oregon joined California and other states in pressing for its right to impose new tailpipe standards. When Obama entered office, he promised to review the waiver request but instead decided to turn the California rules into a national standard.

U.S. automakers, who had filed lawsuits to block the new rules, went along with the new plan. That's not because they saw the light on climate change, but because they have received billions of dollars from the federal government and may need billions more to survive.

The announcement of the nation's first comprehensive effort to curb vehicle emissions provides reason to hope the administration and Democratic leaders in Congress can win approval of comprehensive carbon cap-and-trade legislation. If that happens, Oregon, California and the other states that led the lonely fight against global warming when the federal government was missing in action will deserve the nation's gratitude — and maybe even a mention in the history books.

— The (Eugene) Register-Guard