- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. automakers and a top union official pledged yesterday to work with Congress to find new ways of dealing with global warming but declared their industry could not bear the burden alone.

The leaders of General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler, with the head of the United Auto Workers union, made a rare joint appearance before a House subcommittee. They stressed that proposed increases in gas-mileage standards for new vehicles would be expensive and could have calamitous results.

“This could include the closing of additional facilities and the loss of tens of thousand of automotive jobs,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said.

But all of the industry leaders, under questioning from House Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, vowed to work with the committee to produce regulations to address climate change and consider “new regulatory regimes” beyond the fuel-economy program.

“Inaction will not work, and telling us what doesn’t work is useful but no longer sufficient,” Mr. Dingell said.

The committee was exploring alternatives to the fuel-economy program, possibly through the regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions. Mr. Gettelfinger said the UAW wanted Congress to look into the potential of a carbon-control policy that would require reductions in vehicle emissions.

All of the auto leaders answered “yes” when asked by Mr. Dingell whether they were willing to consider “a system which regulates the emissions of carbon dioxide from your vehicles.”

Congress heard from the automakers at a time when many lawmakers are concerned about global warming and seeking ways to require more fuel efficiency in vehicles. The White House is aiming for a 4 percent increase in fuel-economy requirements and wants to change how the rules are applied.

Rick Wagoner, General Motors chairman and chief executive, said the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program, or CAFE, had “failed dramatically” based on its original intentions of reducing gasoline consumption and reliance upon imported oil.

Mr. Wagoner said a 4 percent increase in gas mileage standards would be “extraordinarily expensive and technologically challenging to implement.”

“Even with this proposed CAFE increase America will still be using more — and more likely importing more — oil than ever as well as producing more [carbon-dioxide] emissions,” Mr. Wagoner said.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally told the panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the industry needed “government to be our partners, not our adversaries.”

Toyota’s North American President Jim Press noted that Toyota “accepts the broad scientific consensus that climate change is occurring.”

The Toyota executive said the auto industry “has a responsibility to be part of the solution, but these issues cannot be addressed by the industry alone.”

Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group, said climate change must be addressed through more efficient vehicles, the expanded use of alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, and the “harnessing of market forces to help drive consumer demand.”

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, sharply disagreed with the auto industry’s assessment of the fuel-economy program, arguing that it originally reduced the nation’s dependence on foreign oil but has stagnated in recent years because Congress hasn’t pushed higher standards.

“The testimony that you’re giving is completely wrong,” he told the auto executives.

Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, whose district includes Toyota’s North American headquarters, also warned of raised standards, saying the auto industry could “either take the opportunity to shape change or they can resist … because change surely will come.”

In the Senate, Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, introduced legislation that would raise the fuel-economy requirements by 4 percent for all new vehicles from 2012 to 2030. Their bill, designed to be part of a larger energy package, also would offer tax incentives to manufacturers.

“We don’t have a choice but to make the auto fleet more efficient,” Mr. Dorgan said.

GM, Ford and Chrysler have all announced layoffs and plant closings, and the industry is nervously eyeing an early, $100 billion-plus projected cost for raising the fuel-economy standards under President Bush’s plan.

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