House May Consider Cafe Sooner

By: Mike Bartley

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently endorsed comprehensive fuel economy regulations passed by the Senate and has not ruled out considering similar legislation before Congress adjourns in August.

Pelosi said that she supports a proposal adopted by the Senate Thursday to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) by 40 percent by 2020 to a combined 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks.

Automakers said that the Senate bill, passed 65-27, which would be the first increase for passenger car fuel economy in 25 years, would cost them tens of billions of dollars. They added that the mandate would require them to add expensive technology, limit the size of some vehicles and discontinue selling some bigger vehicles. DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group has said that it could bankrupt the company.

Additionally, automakers intimated that the bill could threaten their future viability. Republicans, worried that Pelosi and other lawmakers might attempt to push through a large CAFE raise, unsuccessfully sought to include a softer CAFE increase in legislation.

Some experts believe that the fuel efficiency requirement is 'attainable.' "We estimate the Big Three could meet the 35 mpg standard only by dramatically reducing sales of large SUVs and pickups by 60 percent, while improving car fuel economy by about 34 percent and truck fuel economy by 25 percent," said Brian Johnson, an auto analyst with Lehman Brothers in New York, in a recent report.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, said that Pelosi had assured him his timetable, taking a comprehensive climate change bill, including a fuel economy increase, after Sept. 1, was acceptable. This fall, the committee will have a "grand, good, bare-knuckled debate," he said.

The committee turned down the amendment on a 31-26 vote. Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the senior Republican, proposed an amendment to raise fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars by 2022, close to the figure that was fruitlessly supported by Sen. Carl Levin. Barton's amendment would also increase light truck fuel economy to 27.5 miles per gallon by 2022 as well.

Dingell and some Republicans urged Barton not to continue with his amendment. But Barton said that it was necessary because Pelosi could attempt an end run around the committee by simply appointing members to a conference committee to hash out a compromise with the Senate on their bill. The turn out of events is speeding as if powered by .

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, a co-sponsor of the alternative fuel economy measure, said that she thought Barton's plan was 'reasonable' and that Pelosi going around the committee was 'a legitimate concern.' U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, also backed Barton's proposal. "We all thought that we would deal with this in the fall," Upton said. "Things outside this committee process have changed."

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the chairman of the House global warming committee, who has proposed a bill to raise fuel economy by 40 percent by 2018 to a combined 35 miles per gallon, said that it was "disquieting" that Detroit auto manufacturers had endorsed the Barton proposal before Democrats had seen it. Earlier, Markey would not say if he plans to bring his tougher fuel economy bill in July, vowing only to use the best strategy to getting his bill passed.

Barton said that it was important to strike the right balance between advocates of tougher fuel economy and auto companies supporting millions of American jobs. "This is an amendment whose time has come," Barton said. Gloria Bergquist, a spokesperson of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers added, "Fuel economy standards need to be increased, but at reasonable levels."

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