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Obama orders review of California emissions bid

President is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to review its denial of California's attempt at stricter fuel efficiency standards.

Update 10:30 a.m. PST: Added new information, including comments from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

President Obama on Monday signed an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review its denial of California's request to set auto emissions standards stricter than the national standards, saying, "the days of Washington dragging its heels are over."

Obama commended California for trying to forge tougher fuel efficiency standards and said, "Instead of standing as a partner, Washington stood in their way."

The president also said new fuel efficiency standards should be implemented so car manufacturers can apply them to 2011 models.

"Our goal is to help American automakers prepare for the future by building the cars of tomorrow," he said.

Noting the recently announced layoffs by Microsoft, Sprint Nextel, and other major companies, Obama said urgent action is needed to pursue energy independence.

He urged Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The energy provisions of the bill, he said, will create jobs for 460,000 Americans.

"America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet," he said. "Now is the time to make tough choices."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called Obama's energy plans a "long overdue step for energy independence and the environment." His committee approved the energy-related portions of the so-called "stimulus" package last week, though the vote fell largely down party lines.

Republicans today were no less wary of the president's plans for stricter emissions regulations.

"I am fearful that today's action will begin the process of setting the American auto industry back even further," said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). "The federal government should not be piling on an industry already hurting in a time like this."

Voinovich sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will convene Tuesday to review portions of the economic package, as will the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Democrats are hoping to pass their version of the bill by February 6 or 7, while House Democrats intend to vote on their version this week. The aim is to get the bill on Obama's desk before Congress breaks for Presidents Day.