As expected, President Barack Obama today directed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish higher fuel efficiency standards for auto manufacturers' 2011 model year.

The standard, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), was established in 1975 in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo. Obama called his new directive "a down payment on a broader and sustained effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Obama issued a second memo today that paves the way for California, long a leader in emission controls, and a dozen or more other states to raise emissions standards above and beyond the national standard. The Bush administration had denied previous requests. In all, the states involved (including those that plan to adopt whatever California implements) represent about 40 percent of the population, according to The Los Angeles Times.

California's plan would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, according to news reports.

Analysts expect the moves to please environmentalists but possibly upset auto manufacturers and union leaders.

A new federal standard signed by Bush in 2007 already raises the target national fleet average — all cars and light trucks — to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent improvement over the current standard, according to Fox News. If the new California rules also go into effect, carmakers could be forced to spend billions to retool, the Times estimates.

General Motors said in a statement: "We're ready to engage the Obama administration and Congress on policies that support meaningful and workable solutions and targets," according to Reuters.

"It is clear that California and the environment now have a strong ally in the White House," said California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who during the election had campaigned for Obama's rival, John McCain.