Pelosi, Dingell Argue Over Fuel Bill Timing

by : Anthony Fontanelle

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday left the door open for negotiations regarding proposals to raise fuel economy mandates. "The full committee will work its will, and so will the Congress, and it will do so in the fullest and most open way," Pelosi said.

But U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, said that Pelosi had assured him that his timetable, bringing a comprehensive climate change bill, including a fuel economy increase, after Sept. 1, was acceptable.

Pelosi noted that she supports a proposal adopted by the Senate last Thursday to raise corporate average fuel economy by 40 percent by 2020 to a combined 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks. "Yes I do," she said.

Pelosi earlier held a press conference with eleven committee chairmen to endorse a separate group of smaller energy-efficiency regulations that the House is expected to approve in July. The regulations will coincide with the Democrats' July 4th "Energy Independence" package. That package does not include fuel economy legislation.

Automakers said the Senate bill would cost them tens of billions of dollars. Though the bill may serve less harm to the production of and foreign auto parts, it would still create chaos especially in the American auto industry.

Separately, House Republicans urged the Energy and Commerce committee to take up without delay fuel economy legislation that would be more advantageous to automakers. It can be recalled that the committee turned down the proposal 31-26. A number of Republicans said that the future of American automobiles was at stake if a fuel economy proposal was adopted that was too aggressive.

In the committee, Rep. Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the committee, proposed to hike fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars by 2022, the same figure used by several senators including, Carl Levin. But Barton's proposal would hike light truck fuel economy to 27.5 miles per gallon by 2022 as well. The Levin compromise proposal would have required automakers to reach 30 miles per gallon by 2025.

Several Republicans have lobbied to have Barton not proceed with his amendment. But Barton said last Wednesday it was necessary to go forward because Pelosi could attempt an end run around the committee by appointing members to a conference committee to initiate a compromise with the Senate on their bill. "I think it's incumbent that this committee has a position on CAFE," Barton said. "It is a significant increase in CAFE, yet it something that's realistically doable. It is definitely a step in the right direction." Barton said the Detroit Big Three, the Toyota Motor Corp. and all major automakers, except the Nissan Motor Co., had assented to the amendment's numbers.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, also threw his support behind Barton's proposal. "We all thought that we would deal with this in the fall," Upton said. "Things outside this committee process have changed," he said noting Pelosi's comments. "We shouldn't walk away from this."

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 it was "disquieting" that Detroit automakers had endorsed the Barton proposal before Democrats had seen it. Earlier, Markey wouldn't say if he planned to bring his tougher fuel economy bill in July, vowing only to use the best strategy to get 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.