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Fuel economy legislation stalled on Capitol Hill, likely for year

November 17, 2010

Congressional staff are beginning preliminary meetings on the differing House and Senate energy bills. Vehicle manufacturers and the NADA endorse House Resolution 2927, the Hill-Terry alternative for Corporate Average Fuel Economy.


With no House-passed CAFE provision, Congress may attempt to move forward with a bolder Senate CAFE hike. The NADA’s legislative affairs office strongly urges dealers to contact their Representatives for support of H.R. 2927. 

But the likelihood of Congress passing legislation by the end of the year to raise the fuel economy of the nation’s cars and light trucks is diminishing. Both chambers have introduced separate measures to raise CAFE regulations. The CAFE standard for passenger cars, 27.5 miles per gallon, has not changed since 1975. Light trucks are required to reach 24 mpg by model year 2012.


"It is remarkable. The president put forward the most aggressive proposal for replacing gasoline last January; he asked Congress to achieve that objective by the summer driving season. Well, school is back in, where’s the legislation?" Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said last month at a White House briefing on climate issues. 

On Thursday, House and Senate energy committee staffers met to discuss differences in the respective bills each chamber passed this summer. But Republicans boycotted the meeting, said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


Wicker said staff members will continue meeting daily, but the House and Senate aren’t likely to quickly appoint a conference committee. 

"Energy is not the big picture thematic issue," Wicker said. "The calendar is filled with Iraq and spending bills."


Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a key sponsor of the Senate fuel economy bill, insisted an energy bill would come up before Congress adjourns, mostly likely before Thanksgiving. 

"The Republicans are refusing to allow (conferences) on any number of bills," Kerry said. "There are major discussions going on about whether they could bypass it, come up with some agreement with the House."


The lack of progress is troubling, said Tim Wirth, a former senator and president of the United Nations Foundation, an organization that pushes public-private partnerships to solve pressing issues such as climate change. 

"It is remarkable to me that no progress has been made between the House and Senate," Wirth said.


In June, the Senate passed a sweeping energy bill that would require automakers to hike fuel efficiency by 40 percent to a combined fleet average of 35 mpg by 2020. 

In August, the House passed an energy bill that sidestepped fuel economy standards, mostly because more than 170 House members supported the smaller increase that’s backed by automakers.


Those members endorsed a compromise bill named after its sponsors, Reps. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), that would raise fuel economy mandates by at least 28 percent to between 32 mpg and 35 mpg by 2022. 

PriceWaterhouseCoopers Automotive Institute said Detroit automakers have the most to fear from the Senate bill.


"Newly minted CAFE standards may encourage a profound product portfolio shift, potentially accelerating (Detroit Three) pickup truck and SUV market share erosion," the report said.