Green groups press Barack Obama for 60MPG fuel efficiency standardUnited Kingdom
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
Environmental campaigners focus on more modest goals as hopes of US climate legislation dwindle ahead of expected Republican gains
America's environmental groups have given up on getting climate change legislation through Congress at a time of Republican ascendancy, and have downsized to a series of more modest goals like fuel economy.
In a sign of that strategy reshift, 20 environmental groups launched a new campaign today to press Barack Obama to propose far more ambitious fuel efficiency and pollution standards for cars of 60mpg by 2025.
Meanwhile, Clean Energy Works, a coalition of 80 grassroots groups that had 45 paid staff in Washington to lobby to get a climate change law through Congress, is shutting up shop.
The rethink, which is still a work in progress, gets underway at a dispiriting time for greens.
The election of the greenest-ever president in Barack Obama failed to produce the hoped-for sweeping climate and energy legislation in Congress. Democrats are now preparing themselves for heavy losses in November's mid-term elections, which will make it even harder for Obama to get his agenda through Congress.
Greens say they are refocusing their energy on ensuring that existing institutions - such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - take action on climate change. The EPA is poised to begin using its authority to order industries to curb emissions.
"We are diversifying our strategy into a building block approach as opposed to looking at a single focus of a comprehensive bill because obviously for this year it does not appear it is going to happen, and it is not clear what is going to happen next year," said Joe Mendelson, who leads the global warming campaign at the National Wildlife Federation.
"We are going to focus more on the individual building blocks that get us to where we need to be in emissions."
The Sierra Club, Environment America, Natural Resources Defence Council and other groups wrote a letter to Obama, the EPA and the transportation department today demanding it raise the average fuel efficiency for the American fleet to 60mpg by 2025.
The environmental groups told reporters that adopting the new standard, beginning with cars manufactured in 2017, would spur the development of new hybrid and plug-ins models, and that 55% of new cars sold in 2025 would be hybrids, with electric drive vehicles accounting for 15%.
The new car and light truck standard would save 49bn gallons of petrol a year by 2030, and reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions by 535 metric tons or 6% a year. The push is timed for the administration's expected roll-out of new car stand proposals at the end of the month.
Obama faced an additional challenge today from green unions, with the United Steelworkers of America filing suit to demand the administration take action against China at the WTO.
In a 5,000-page petition, the steelworkers accused China of unfair subsidies to solar panel, wind turbine and battery factories, undercutting US manufacturers.
The petition pits Obama against some of his closest allies. The steelworkers' leadership has been strong supporters of his clean energy agenda.
Behind the scenes, the leaders of environmental organisations have been meeting regularly to try to chart a new strategy now that the prospects of even modest movement on energy and climate are dead in Congress.
The mainstream environmental organisations are also gearing up against the Canadian tar sands, the single largest supplier of crude oil to the US, and a planned pipeline from Alberta to Texas.
They are also rededicating campaigns against the highly destructive coal mining practice of mountaintop removal, and the use of coal.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, indicated early this week that there were limited prospects even for a "piecemeal" bill promoting more efficient home appliances.
The movers behind today's push on car efficiency argued that getting gas guzzlers off the road would be a big move to reducing global warming. "This has always been a focus," said Debbie Sease of the Sierra Club. "It is not a substitute for a broader set of climate and energy policies, but it is one of the ways we actually meet the targets."
But she admitted that the defeat of climate change legislation in Congress meant now, more than ever, there was no "silver bullet" for dealing with climate change.
"We didn't get the silver bullet," she said. "We are going to be focusing on a lot of silver buckshot."
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