Saturday, March 10, 2007

Big 3 face heat in D.C. over global warming

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Big 3 face heat in D.C. over global warming
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

U.S. Rep John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and three other congressional officials on energy policy met with President Bush for 45 minutes Tuesday. Bush asked the group to meet with him in the weeks to come and continue talking about the issue.

Dingell, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, plans at least 8 more hearings on fuel economy mandates and climate change over the next six weeks.

Auto executives will testify on March 14. Former Vice President Al Gore will testify in both the House and Senate on March 21.

Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on whether the EPA can regulate automobile tailpipe emissions in Massachusetts vs. EPA.
Source: Detroit News research
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WASHINGTON -- Top executives of the world's four biggest automakers and the head of the United Auto Workers union will testify before Congress next month during a high-profile hearing on climate change amid growing calls for automakers to do more to limit global warming.

General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner and Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor Corp.'s North American division, have agreed to testify March 14 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.

Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group have also agreed to participate and are expected to send Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger will appear at a separate session of the same hearing.

Dingell is calling the automotive heavyweights to Washington as he is working to fashion a compromise to President Bush's call to increase fuel economy by 4 percent annually, which would reduce vehicle emissions that have been linked to global warming. Dingell's goal is a bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions that automakers can support.

The hearing will mark the first time in recent years that automakers' top executives have been called to Congress as a group to testify about climate change and their opposition to dramatic increases in fuel economy rules.

Auto industry critics say the prospect brings to mind the appearance of tobacco company CEOs in 1994, who declared nicotine wasn't addictive.

"Do they blame the victim or do they say, 'OK, we'll do our fair share' or do they resist and become the pariah the tobacco industry became?" said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program. "The auto companies have gotten more rope to allow them to continue to make gas-guzzling, polluting vehicles that aren't very good for society."

Auto industry officials say it isn't fair to compare them to tobacco executives, noting that the industry has spent billions to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles and doesn't oppose achievable increases.

Automakers say the current corporate average fuel economy requirements, known as CAFE, distort the market by forcing them to heavily discount smaller, more fuel-efficient cars to meet fleet-wide mandates.

"There is change in the air," said Dave McCurdy, head of the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, which represents GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota among other companies. "We are going to be at the table. I often use the Oklahoma saying, 'If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.' "

In just a few short months, the auto industry has faced growing pressure from Congress, the Bush administration and in the courts to dramatically increase the fuel efficiency of their products -- a prospect that will likely cost the industry billions and force it to stop making heavier vehicles while developing hybrid versions of more models.

There is no dispute that U.S. cars and trucks generate a large amount of carbon dioxide -- an estimated 300 million tons yearly, or about 6 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

The best way to reduce emissions is to improve fuel economy and there are about 40 separate bills in Congress that offer competing ways to force automakers to raise fuel economy.

The Bush administration's call for a 4 percent annual increase gets its first real test at a hearing today of Dingell's Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell, one of four lawmakers who met with President Bush on Tuesday on energy policy, has told automakers in blunt terms about the need to be part of a broad-based reduction in carbon dioxide output from many industries as his committee attempts to meet a July 4 target for a draft bill .

At today's hearing, Dingell, who wrote the original fuel economy law in 1975, will "acknowledge that it is an imperfect system" but also praise the gains that were achieved by the regulations, according to excerpts of his statement obtained by The News.

"It has contributed to motor vehicles which are twice as efficient and at the same time are cleaner and safer than ever before," Dingell says in the statement. "I am proud of what this committee accomplished thirty years ago, however, we are now confronted with new and pressing questions."

Some have suggested Congress should focus on regulating carbon dioxide emissions. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to reduce the content of carbon dioxide in fuels by 10 percent by 2020, which could force fuel companies to take a larger role.

"Faced with evidence that the globe is warming, is the current method of regulating the fuel economy of vehicles the most effective way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, from cars and trucks?" Dingell said in his statement.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Nicole Nason and White House council of economic advisors chair Edward Lazear will testify at today's hearing.

The pair will be questioned about President Bush's call to reduce oil consumption 20 percent by 2017 -- in part by reducing gasoline usage by 8.5 million gallons annually through higher fuel economy mandates for both light trucks and passenger cars.

In 1975, Congress forced automakers to hike fuel economy to 27.5 miles per gallon from the industry average of 13 mpg over 10 years. Last March, NHTSA issued a small increase in light-truck fuel economy raising it from 21.6 to 24 mpg by 2011.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or

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