WASHINGTON — A showdown is near over congressional attempts to raise fuel economy standards sharply.
- Detroit 3 CEOs are stepping up their trips to the capital.
- A bipartisan group of senators is trying to thwart backroom deal-making by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
- The White House is threatening a veto.
Last week, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and other senators friendly to the auto industry asked Democratic leaders to create a formal House-Senate conference committee on pending energy legislation. They fear the backroom maneuvers will produce a bill detrimental to the industry.
A Senate-passed bill would require cars and trucks to average 35 mpg by 2020, up from about 25 mpg today. The industry has lined up broad support for a milder alternative that would keep car and truck standards separate. But it won't be considered if leaders write a final bill outside normal legislative channels.
On Friday, more than 60 lawmakers wrote White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten asking that the milder industry-backed alternative be considered if the administration tries to negotiate energy bill details with Pelosi and Reid.
The car standard is set by law at 27.5 mpg. Under rules adopted in early 2006, light-truck standards are rising slowly to about 24 mpg by 2011.
Last week, the Bush administration renewed its threat to veto the pending energy legislation. Allan Hubbard, Bush's economy policy adviser, said White House objections to the legislation include its merging of car and truck standards.
General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally, Chrysler LLC CEO Bob Nardelli and other top industry executives either have met recently with lawmakers and administration officials or plan such meetings. They are concerned not only about the energy legislation in Congress but also about the administration's plans for first-ever greenhouse gas emissions rules for cars and trucks.
Executives want to ensure that government "gets the details right" on crucial policy decisions affecting the industry, GM spokesman Greg Martin said.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April required the administration to begin planning national greenhouse gas rules. Bush wants the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to propose preliminary rules before year end.
A White House plan aims to cut petroleum consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. It would do so largely through higher fuel economy standards and a shift to alternative fuels.
Meanwhile, California officials are appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit that seeks damages from the six largest automakers for the greenhouse gases their vehicles produce.