The House voted yesterday to postpone and dilute a scheduled tightening in auto exhaust standards, handing a significant victory to the auto industry and allied unions in th battle over revision of the Clean Air Act.
Majority Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.) said the House acton suggests "tough sledding" for the President's proposed new taxes on gasoline and gas-guzzling cars.
The 255-to-139 House vote followed rejection of a proposal described as a compromise between the administration's position and the auto industry-labor position sponsored by Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.)
The compromise, worked out by House Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Paul G. Rogers (D-Fla.), was defeated by a 202-to-190.
Rogers predicted that if the Dingell-Broyhill standards were adopted in the final version of the clean air bill, a veto by President Carter would be given serious consideration.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Douglas M. Costle' said he was "deeply disappointed" in the House vote because it was a "needless setback to public health for at least the next decade," particularly since the technology was "available to meet the standards at a reasonable cost."
Costle said it "shows the power of the auto industry" and Detroit was pre-empting the capacity for dirtying the air "at the expense of everyone else" since job-creating industry would be prevented from moving into many areas because the air pollution capacity would be taken up by autos.
Rogers, too, laid the blame for the defeat on "heavy lobbying effort by auto manufacturers, auto dealers and auto workers.
Leonard Woodcock, who recently stepped down as head of the United Auto Workers, was in the gallery throughout the debate, and one House member admitted it was difficult to pass up the opportunity to cast a vote that pleased both big business and big labor at the same time.
The Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, ordered the auto industry to reduce the three major pollutants cars produce - hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide - by 90 per cent by 1975. A 90 per nec treduction would mean that cars would produce .41 grams per mile in hydrocarbons, 3.4 grams per mile in carbon monoxide and .41 grams per mile in nitrogen oxides.
Several delays were granted, but those standards were supposed to go into effect for the cars Detroit is producing on the assembly line this summer, the model 1978 car. Everyone - the administration, Congress and the auto industry - agreed Detroit could not meet those standards and should have a one-year extension. But the argument was over what should happen after that.
The Senate committee bill would grant only a one-year delay, except for the nitrogen oxide standard, the most difficult to meet, which it would relax to 1 gram per mile.
The administration would grant a year's delay on hydrocarbons and give the auto industry until model year 1981 to meet the 3.4 carbon monoxide standard and 1 gram per mile on nitrogen oxide.
The Bill passed yesterday by the House grants a two-year day on hydrocarbon, permanently weakens the carbon monoxide standard to 9 grams per mile, and allows a waiver on meeting the 1-gram-per-mile standard on nitrogen oxide until 1985.
Dingell argued that the tougher standards would cost between 20,000 and 100,000 auto indurstry jobs, would cost car buyers an additional $350 on the price of the car, rather than the $170 his proposal would cost per car and would exact a fuel penalty of about 10 per cent amounting to using an additional 145,000 barrels of oil a day.
Supporters of the tougher standards argued that the auto industry was simply dragging its feet, that fuel economy had improved by 50 per cent since 1974, though the standards had also gotten 50 per cent tougher, and that the jobs argument was inaccurate.