WASHINGTON -- David Kelleher calls himself a crazy Irish Democrat from Philadelphia.
He's also an auto dealer who was running madly around Capitol Hill Tuesday talking to members of Congress about the threat excessively high fuel economy standards would pose to his business.
Kelleher said he had never done any hands-on lobbying before but was happy to respond to a request from the Chrysler group. He flew to Washington Monday night.
Drop-by, in-person visits by an estimated 100 hometown dealers from across the country were just part of a full-scale lobbying push by the industry on fuel economy this week.
Automaker executives also came to the capital. Automakers, the UAW, dealer and supplier associations all were generating phone calls and emails to congressional offices. And advertising campaigns continued.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the majority whip, acknowledged the "strong effort" by the industry to replace fuel economy provisions in a bill on the Senate floor with a milder version.
Durbin, who favors the tougher requirements, raising standards 40 percent by 2020 and 4 percent a year after that, said the headcount is extremely close.
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, a group that also favors the tougher version, estimated only about five senators are undecided.
The crucial vote on the industry-backed alternative could come at any time. Even it would raise standards by more than 30 percent by 2025.
Both of Pennsylvania's senators appear to be leaning against the industry position on fuel economy, but at least "they are listening," Kelleher told Automotive News after his visits to their offices.
The senators are Bob Casey, a moderate Democrat in office just since January, and Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican serving since 1981.
Kelleher, armed with industry-generated data, said he told lawmakers and aides that 54 percent of Pennsylvanians buy light trucks. And 68 percent of Kelleher's customers favor trucks.
Extreme increases in fuel economy standards will keep people out of the marketplace if they can't get the vehicles they want or if prices go too high, Kelleher said.
He owns David Dodge of Glen Mills, Pa., and David Chrysler-Jeep-Suzuki of Philadelphia.
Environmental groups charge the industry is using unfounded scare tactics to sway the vote.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]