WASHINGTON — An unusual rift has emerged between top congressional Democrats over a draft global warming bill that would prohibit California and other states from taking tougher action than Washington to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
On one side are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and a number of her California colleagues, fighting to preserve their state's landmark law to cut tailpipe emissions. Pelosi has said that action to curb global warming is one of her most important initiatives.
On the other side are Reps. John D. Dingell, a Democrat from auto-producing Michigan who has expressed support for the legislation, and Rick Boucher (D-Va.). Dingell is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will shape the bill, and Boucher is the chairman of a key subcommittee writing the bill.
On Thursday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) rounded up a dozen signatures from members of Dingell's committee on a letter that strongly opposes the draft.
"We have serious concerns about the direction in which the committee is currently heading," the letter says.
California's senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, also vowed Thursday to use "all means at our disposal" to block any effort to preempt California law, suggesting a possible bill-killing filibuster, if necessary.
The swift reaction against the proposal could doom the plan.
Perhaps the most important foe is Pelosi, who earlier tangled with Dingell by forming a special panel to consider global warming legislation. Also opposed are California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, and governors and attorneys general from other states, including several seeking to follow California's lead in regulating tailpipe emissions.
"While federal action is necessary and long overdue on climate change, Congress must not deny states the right to pursue solutions in the absence of federal policy," said a letter to Boucher sent by eight governors, including Schwarzenegger.
Dingell and Boucher showed no sign of retreating Thursday.
"Unlike local air pollution, which can be cleaned up by requiring cleaner cars to be sold in that area, climate change is a much larger problem that must be addressed nationally and internationally," Dingell said.
The fight, which comes as the energy issue moves to center stage on Capitol Hill underscores Democratic leaders' challenge in passing comprehensive legislation to reduce global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Energy policy and environmental regulation often scramble the usual party-line divisions, splitting lawmakers based on their region's economic interests rather than ideology.
As Democrats prepare to debate their first energy bill since taking control of Congress in January — a measure expected to come before the Senate next week that calls for stricter miles-per-gallon rules for vehicles — some of the stiffest opposition comes from Democrats from auto-making states.
A House subcommittee is to vote next week on a measure that includes the provision to prevent states from imposing stricter standards than the federal government has on vehicle emissions.
California has been fighting to win the Bush administration's approval to implement its law requiring automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Automakers oppose the plan.
The federal Clean Air Act permits California to set stricter anti-pollution rules than the federal government because of the state's legendary smog problems, but only if the Environmental Protection Agency approves.
On Thursday, an auto industry group spoke out in support of federal preemption of state laws. "The United States needs a consistent national policy that avoids the marketplace chaos that would surely arise from a patchwork quilt of conflicting state fuel economy/carbon dioxide mandates," Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told a House energy subcommittee.
Dingell said Congress gave federal regulators the authority to set vehicle fuel-efficiency standards because of "long-standing congressional concerns about the burden that would be placed on auto manufacturers selling cars across the country if they were forced to comply with regulations from multiple authorities."
Boucher cited the recent Supreme Court ruling that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gas emissions unless it can demonstrate a compelling reason not to. He said automakers could come under the authority of the EPA; the federal Department of Transportation, which sets fuel-economy standards; and the state of California.
"The automakers are understandably concerned about this regulatory confusion," Boucher said. "You could have at least three different regulations that would be inconsistent and make it impossible for them to manufacture their product."
© 2007 The Los Angeles Times