The Washington Times - January 31, 2013, 12:32PM

The Obama administration’s push for higher auto fuel efficiency standards was as important a scientific step as the discovery that nicotine is addictive and that cigarettes cause cancer, a top administration official said.

In an interview with the Tulane University student newspaper published Thursday, outgoing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, a Tulane alumna, said that her agency’s 2009 “endangerment finding,” which directly led to the implementation of the auto standards to fight greenhouse gas emissions, is her proudest achievement and represented a major step forward for public health. The auto standards are often cited by Ms. Jackson, President Obama and others as the most significant victory of the past four years in that fight against carbon emissions and climate change.

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“The country finally made a finding in respect to climate change and said that the emission of greenhouse gases endangered public health and welfare,” Ms. Jackson told Tulane’s Hullabaloo newspaper. “I liken it to the finding that nicotine is addictive or that cigarette smoking causes cancer, because they’re scientific findings. Once you have that science, it compels public policy actions.”

Last year, the White House finalized its historic fuel standards, calling for cars and light trucks to get nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration painted the rules as a victory for the driving public, since motorists will spend much less on gasoline once the standards are fully implemented.

But there was a more important justification put forth by Mr. Obama, Ms. Jackson and other administration officials. They argued that the new standards are a vital step in reducing carbon and other harmful emissions, a key policy goal of the administration and of many congressional Democrats.

The EPA’s “endangerment finding” was the legal prerequisite for putting those auto rules in place. Signed by Ms. Jackson in December 2009, it states in part that “the administrator [of the EPA] finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases … in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”

Those gases include carbon dioxide, methane and others.