Count Illinois as one of the states that’s all but certain to move toward tighter restrictions on auto emissions now that the White House is open to them.

State reps Julie Hamos and Elaine Nekritz, who both represent north suburban districts, said in interviews today that they’ll renew their push for tougher emission standards sometime in the coming weeks. Both were chief sponsors of an emissions bill that opponents thwarted in the last legislative session after arguing it would kill jobs and invite lawsuits.

“It was great news to hear at 5:30 this morning,” Hamos said on Monday. “It’s exciting. This issue has mostly been pushed by states on the west and east coasts, so we could help bring it to the middle of the country.”

Monday morning President Obama asked EPA officials to review California’s request to impose stricter emissions standards than those federal law currently requires. If, as expected, the administration reverses a Bush administration ruling and gives California the green light, other states will follow with their own new curbs. More than a dozen have already passed laws authorizing tougher rules, and several more, including Illinois, have debated them.

Cars are responsible for more than 15 percent of the earth-warming greenhouse gases produced in the United States and a major source of dangerous air pollution. But automakers and their congressional allies greeted Obama’s move with nervousness and skepticism, arguing that now isn’t the time to burden them with new restrictions. Nekritz said she expects the same opposition in the General Assembly.

“It’s actually a fascinating philosophical debate: everybody’s agreeing we need to do something, but now we’re having a fight over how to do it,” she said. “Some people say we can’t afford to do it now. I agree that it may be painful for a while, but we’ll benefit from it down the road.”

Several factors should help their cause. Opponents will obviously have a tougher time arguing that the state is likely to get entangled in lawsuits with the federal government now that the feds have switched sides. Just weeks from receiving government assistance, the car companies aren’t in the best position to make demands. And while the next spike in gas—and there will be one—is likely to prompt another cry for efficient cars, Hamos said the automakers have already stated that they won’t comply with tougher regulations if they don’t have to.

“If we don’t pass this soon we’re going to miss out on those cars,” she said.  “We’re going to push very hard to get this through this year.”