White House to Set Emission Standards

by : Anthony Fontanelle

The Congress is wasting too much time on emission standards. And a White House official said that the administration doubts the august body can act soon. This is why Bush administration intends to push ahead.

"My honest assessment on Capitol Hill is we would very much like legislation to pass," said Al Hubbard, assistant to the president and director of the National Economic Council. "(But) we're not very optimistic that's going to happen. It really depends on the Democrats." Hubbard said a new energy bill will be addressed.

Drew Hammil, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said completing action on an energy bill before the end of the year "remains a top priority for the speaker."

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in April ruled the federal government has the express authority to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions as a pollutant. In view of the decision, President Bush ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create a new regulation limiting emissions. And the easiest way to slash emissions is to raise the fuel economy of passenger vehicles. A proposed regulation is expected before the end of the year, reported the Detroit News.

Auto manufacturers and environmentalists cite Bush's Jan. 23 State of the Union address and his call for improving fuel efficiency and limit foreign oil dependence by five percent by 2017 - as a compelling force in pushing Congress to address fuel efficiency standards.

Bush proposal targets a four percent average yearly increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFÉ. The Senate, meanwhile, voted in June to hike fuel economy standards 40 percent over 10 years to a combined fleetwide average of 35 miles per gallon.

Consequently, the House in August passed an energy efficiency bill that sidestepped the issue of fuel efficiency in the wake of strong support for a softer increase that is backed by Detroit's Big Three automakers and Toyota Motor Corp. That bill, called Hill-Terry after its proponents Reps. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Lee Terry, R-Ind., would raise fuel efficiency by between 28 percent and 40 percent by 2022.

Hubbard said the Bush administration wants "off ramps" - or the ability to set a lower standard if Congress sets a specific number. "Congress can put in four percent, but if the Secretary of Transportation - using sound science, safety and cost-benefit analysis - determines that four percent is not doable but 2.5 is then we would be comfortable with that approach," Hubbard said. He said the standards should not be set "through a political process, but scientists and economists and experts should do it."

"Now the automakers disagree with us, but we believe that there's a reasonable chance the conclusion will be that CAFE can improve by four percent a year," Hubbard said, noting automakers have told him two percent is more feasible. "We're not in favor of putting four percent in law. It's just a goal. If four percent's the wrong number, than we shouldn't go with four percent."

Hubbard met with GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner last week and met briefly this week with Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally. Hubbard said he had to cancel a scheduled meeting with Mulally because of a meeting on children's health insurance, but they were able to talk for "five or six minutes."

Hubbard said Mulally told him that with cost concessions from the UAW, Ford "expects to be able to build small cars in America that are competitive with small cars built oversees."

With the new emissions standards fast approaching in the U.S., would and other auto parts go with the expected enhancements much sooner?