A STEP FORWARD ON EMISSIONS STANDARDS…. Hilzoy had a great item on this overnight, but I didn’t want the news to get lost in the shuffle. It’s a pretty big deal.

About a year ago, California and 13 other states petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions more forcefully than the federal government. EPA scientists and policy experts agreed that the states qualified for the waivers, but at the 11th hour, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, one of the Bush administration’s more humiliating hacks, intervened, rejected guidance from his own staff, and denied the states’ request.

There was some question as to whether the White House was involved with the EPA administration’s decision to ignore the advice of the EPA. In response to questions, Johnson has stonewalled, delayed, and did everything possible to avoid cooperating with oversight, until the Bush gang ultimately claimed executive privilege.

Today, the Obama White House will do what Johnson and Bush declined to do: put the authority back in the hands of EPA experts and let states strictly regulate emissions.

President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.

The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and signifies a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Mr. Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.

Mr. Obama’s presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agency’s regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.

What’s more, the Washington Post reports that Obama, as part of today’s emphasis on the environment and energy, will also “order the Transportation Department to issue guidelines that will ensure that the nation’s auto fleet reaches an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, if not earlier.”

As Hilzoy noted, “It’s a whole new world, and I like it.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.