Pelosi Still Wants More Miles Per Gallon

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), did not specify how the House would enact tougher fuel-economy standards.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), did not specify how the House would enact tougher fuel-economy standards. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2007

As the price of benchmark West Texas crude oil topped $70 a barrel for the first time in 10 months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) yesterday affirmed her support for the tougher fuel-economy standards recently passed by the Senate.

And after a news conference touting energy measures recently approved by 11 House committees, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said such standards -- currently missing from the House measures -- would be introduced in time to resolve differences between House and Senate energy legislation later this year.

But neither Pelosi nor Hoyer, in an effort to avoid confrontation with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (Mich.), said how they planned to introduce the fuel-efficiency measure.

Pelosi said she and Dingell, who opposes tough economy standards for the auto industry, were "in conversation" about how to handle the issue. Hoyer said there would not necessarily be "one comprehensive package" on energy but that the several measures would move in pieces. Citing the press of other business such as appropriations bills, Hoyer left it unclear when an energy bill would go to the House floor.

The fuel-economy standard has emerged as one of the most controversial issues in the House as Congress tries to address concerns about oil prices, reliance on foreign oil and the contribution that energy use makes to global warming. Dingell wants to deal with the issue as part of climate-change legislation he has pledged to tackle in September, but the prospects for that complex legislation are uncertain at best.

"With $3 gasoline and $70 oil, there's remarkable pressure on the House to follow the Senate and pass fuel-economy increases," said Paul W. Bledsoe, communications and strategy director at the National Commission on Energy Policy. "That's what's really different this summer as opposed to previous energy bill attempts."

In January, Pelosi launched a drive to come up with legislation by July 4, and auto and truck fuel-efficiency seemed like a key element of that. Gasoline use accounts for about half of the nation's petroleum consumption.

Last week, the Senate passed an energy bill that would raise the minimum mileage average to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

But while Pelosi said yesterday that "we Democrats declare America's independence from foreign oil," energy experts said that although the package of measures passed by the various House committees may do many worthy things, they would not bring about independence from foreign oil.

Among the most far-reaching measures were those promoting greater energy efficiency in appliances, buildings and electricity grids -- reducing carbon dioxide emissions and electricity bills. But the United States hardly imports any oil for power generation. Half of the country's electricity is generated by plants that burn domestic coal.

Lobbyists are still working to alter key parts of the legislation as it moves to the House floor and later to conference committee with the Senate. The American Petroleum Institute has been lobbying to limit the impact of tax measures that would effectively boost oil companies' corporate income tax rate and increase royalty payments. Coal and nuclear advocates are pushing for additional loan guarantees and tax breaks. Beef and poultry producers that use corn feed hope to dilute incentives for corn-based ethanol.

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