A Fuelish Choice

Showdown looms between Nancy Pelosi who supports more aggressive fuel economy regulations than Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell.

Published: 20-Jul-2007

Congress could be within days of approving an increase in vehicle fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in more than 30 years - if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decides she's ready to take on the fight among her fellow Democrats.

Granted, it's likely to be a messy business. None of the options for delay is more promising, though. They simply brake the momentum of last month's historic Senate vote in favor of higher mileage requirements.

If Democrats are to deliver on their pledge to advance America's energy independence, demanding more miles per gallon is by far the quickest, cleanest, most sweeping measure they can take. House leaders should ensure that their energy bill at least matches the Senate requirement for vehicle fuel efficiency, and preferably ups the ante.

Ms. Pelosi's dilemma is that the Energy and Commerce Committee, which wrote the so-called energy independence legislation, is chaired by Michigan Rep. John D. Dingell, a longtime champion of the automobile industry, which for three decades has been resisting efforts to phase out the gas hogs. Thus, the energy measure expected to hit the House floor within the next week or two is silent on fuel efficiency, even though 70 percent of American oil use is devoted to transportation.

If Ms. Pelosi permits, an amendment to raise the fuel efficiency standards could be offered on the House floor, effectively making an end run around Mr. Dingell and other opponents. The downside is that many in her Democratic flock would have to cast a tough vote with no guarantee of success. Too bad. That's why they were elected: to take on issues the Republicans avoided.

Some House strategists say Ms. Pelosi might use her political capital instead for a floor amendment requiring power plants to use a minimum of renewable fuels instead of coal. House and Senate negotiators could then include both hot-button proposals in the final version of the energy measure on which lawmakers could approve an up or down vote. It's a most implausible scenario.

The House energy bill without the increase or the renewable portfolio standard is minimal. It would upgrade appliance efficiency, make some electricity grid improvements and offer clean energy tax credits.

Instead of accepting the lowest common denominator of what will pass, Ms. Pelosi should bring her leadership persuasion to bear and round up as many additional votes as may be needed to at least match the Senate on raising the standards.

An important victory for the environment as well as national security is within reach. Ms. Pelosi should take advantage of that.

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