Levins Fuel Economy Mandate Builds Support

By: KatieJones

Detroit auto executives went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to urge undecided lawmakers to support Sen. Carl Levin's compromise fuel economy proposal that would raise fuel economy standards but not as drastically as a bill on the Senate floor.

Troy Clarke, the president of General Motors Corp.'s North America unit, and Beth Lowery, the company's vice president for energy policy, are seeing more than a dozen senators and representatives in meetings.

Meanwhile, Sue Cischke, the Ford Motor Co. senior vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering, was to meet with about a half-dozen legislators. The meetings include some with key lawmakers who could be significant to Ford's effort to beat back a Senate energy bill that includes a Commerce Committee proposal. It would increase the average fuel economy mandates 40 percent to 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks combined by 2020, with four percent annual increases through 2030. The automakers said that such a dramatic increase would cost them billions.

Alan Reuther, the United Auto Workers' chief lobbyist, was earlier quoted saying: "I believe the Big Three will endorse the Levin bill because it has CAFE increases that are economically feasible." The UAW is backing Levin's proposal.

The domestic auto executives, along with some from foreign automakers who have also been in the previous meetings, were sending the message that a compromise proposal authored by Michigan Democrat Levin and Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., is achievable. While the language is still being finalized, the compromise bill is expected to call for raising standards to 36 mpg for cars by 2022 and 30 mpg for trucks by 2025.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents domestic automakers and the Toyota Motor Corp. among others, intends to endorse the compromise bill as soon as it is released. "We are going to come out in support of the Levin bill," Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said last Wednesday. "It's not that one bill is easy and a slam dunk. They are both challenging. The Levin bill is a more reasonable approach."

The alliance has spent $1 million over ad campaigns in May. The ads, aimed at opposing the Senate proposal bill, were disseminated in eleven states. The alliance is also considering another campaign to back the Levin compromise bill. Cischke said that all automakers in the alliance back the Levin bill and no automaker supported the Senate energy bill. "Nobody can meet those targets right now," she said. "We all have the same technology tool kit."

The head of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, said that he was open to an alternative. "I have told Sen. Levin that we urgently need to see the language of his alternative," Inouye said.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen senators held a press conference to condemn the domestic automakers. Detroit automakers are "the ostrich with their heads in the sand," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the lead sponsor of the Senate fuel economy increase. "The fact of the matter is that Detroit has done nothing about mileage efficiency for the past 20 years and the time has come."

Levin's proposal was derailed by at least a day as he hammered out language. He said that the automakers were supportive. "They think they can do it and survive with it." One U.S. auto official said that automakers cannot stop an increase in fuel economy standards and had supported Levin's bill. He added some in Congress "think we're either incompetent, dishonest or lazy and I'm not sure which of those I want to be."

Next week, the mounting heat of fuel mandates will intensify. Take a grip on the to manage a bumpy and heated journey.

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