WASHINGTON A top congressional ally of automakers is staging a last-ditch effort that would limit the power of environmental regulators to control greenhouse gases from cars and trucks, sources said Thursday.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wants language to be included in energy legislation to clarify that automakers first responsibility is to comply with traditional fuel economy standards.
Dingells effort was characterized as a final roadblock to completion of a much-debated energy bill. Lawmakers could vote on the legislation as early as next week.
If successful, Dingells move would keep the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the chief regulator of vehicles, rather than the EPA.
The key point in the legislation is a requirement that vehicles average 35 mpg by 2020, about 40 percent higher than todays vehicles.
In a historic reversal, the industry has all but given up its long, hard fight to keep that kind of provision from becoming law.
Dan Becker, an environmental consultant and longtime advocate for sharply higher fuel economy standards, called Dingells move brinksmanship.
He said that if Dingell, chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants to blow up the energy bill, environmental groups will seek and probably win even tougher standards after the next election.
A congressional staffer close to negotiations said it is inconceivable that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would agree to Dingells request.
The EPA is leading an administration effort to write first-ever federal greenhouse gas rules for cars and trucks. In April the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the agency must determine whether vehicle greenhouse emissions are a threat to health and, if so, regulate them.
The principal gas is carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fuel but also a natural part of the atmosphere.
Some industry lobbyists have said Congress needs to clarify how to make the new rules compatible with the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE, with which automakers have had to comply since it was enacted in 1975.