Tuesday, June 19, 2007

House panel drops auto fuel standard from plan

House panel drops auto fuel standard from plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of the committee writing energy legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives backed away on Monday from controversial elements of the bill, including new fuel economy standards for automobiles.

Michigan Democrat John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, who leads the subcommittee writing the bill, said in a letter to members that the panel was pressed for time and could not reach agreement on several issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants energy legislation ready before the July 4 recess and has been negotiating with Dingell on key elements of the bill with mixed success.

Instead, the panel plans to focus on a scaled-back plan. This will include an initiative to improve efficiency of the nation's electricity grid as well as auto-related proposals to advance battery technology for electric cars and accelerate production of alternative fuels, like gasoline/ethanol blends favored by major carmakers.

Committee leaders dropped a measure to block California and 11 states from landmark regulations to limit tailpipe emissions, labeled as a culprit of global warming. Pelosi, a California Democrat, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, opposed congressional interference on that issue.

To be considered later are provisions that would promote liquefied coal for vehicle fuels and standards to lower carbon output in fuels. Proposals for making new vehicles go further on a gallon of gasoline -- aimed at quickly reducing oil imports -- would be left out of the bill.

Draft fuel economy standards proposed by the committee were weaker than those being considered this week in the U.S. Senate, and were sharply criticized by some senior members of the House panel.

The leading plan in the Senate would require 4 percent annual increases in fuel economy, which auto industry contends is not feasible.

Dingell is a longtime ally of Detroit automakers who have resisted tougher fuel standards. He and Boucher said provisions dropped from the bill would be revived during debate on climate change legislation in the fall.