US House Democrats vow to press auto fuel economy


By John Crawley

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - Senior Democrats in the House of Representatives on Wednesday vowed to push new automobile fuel economy standards in energy legislation soon to be considered by the full chamber.

"We will pass a fuel economy standard soon, just as the Senate has done," Rep. Edward Markey told members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "We have reached a historic moment."

The statement by the Massachusetts Democrat, a senior member of the panel, came as the committee began considering amendments to the package that does not include fuel economy or global warming provisions.

The panel's chairman, John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, has crafted a narrow bill as he tries to build support for climate change legislation in the fall.

"We should set ambitious targets for that legislation," Dingell said.

Most Democrats aligned themselves with Dingell and called the committee bill a start. But Republicans said it was weak.

"It's not bold at all. It's not up to our committee's standards or ability," said Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican.

The bill would set new efficiency standards for dishwashers, refrigerators and other home appliances. It would also mandate new efficiency targets for light bulbs, and update energy codes for buildings. Another main provision would lay the groundwork for creating a more-efficient electric grid.

On autos, the bill would establish grants to increase the availability of alternative fuels, like E85, a gasoline-ethanol blend, biodiesel and plug-in hybrids. It would also create a loan guarantee program for production of advanced batteries, crucial for electric cars.

Democrats said Dingell is trying to prevent action on fuel economy and tougher climate measures. But Dingell, the auto industry's most powerful defender in Congress, said it was the right of members to offer amendments.

Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said there would be a chance to raise fuel economy in committee, on the House floor next month or when House and Senate lawmakers meet to craft a final bill later this summer.

"We are capable of doing more and we must do more," Waxman said.

The Senate approved an energy package last week that would require the U.S. vehicle fleet of passenger cars, sport utilities, pickups and vans to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 10 mpg improvement over today's standards.

Automakers, including U.S. and overseas manufacturers, fiercely opposed the target. General Motors Corp. , Ford Motor Co. , and Chrysler Group said it would hurt them financially. The industry and its Senate allies failed to sway the chamber on a softer alternative.

Markey has favored a plan to increase fuel efficiency to 35 mpg by 2018.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, on Wednesday said she continues to discuss options with Dingell on his energy initiative and broader legislation she plans to unveil on Thursday. It was unclear, however, if Pelosi would cede to Dingell's approach or include a new fuel economy standard in her plan.



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