The Do-Something Congress

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It turns out they still know how to write laws. After a lot of very difficult negotiation, House and Senate negotiators last night reached a deal on an important energy bill that would require automakers to increase fuel efficiency standards by 40% by 2020–the first increase since the current standards were set in 1984. As California Senator Dianne Feinstein noted, it is “a major milestone and the first concrete legislation to address global warming.” The key compromise here was not between the House and Senate, however, or between Democrats and Republicans. It was between two longtime antagonists: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Energy Commitee Chairman (and auto-industry champion) John Dingell.

Pelosi seems to have come out the winner, by and large. Dingell had tried, among other things, to undercut the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the states (which have been way ahead of Washington on this) to regulate auto emissions, and hand it to the more automaker-friendly National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The auto companies will still be allowed to have separate standards for cars and “light trucks” (which include SUVs and minivans), but will also be required to meet an overall average. Dingell did manage to get an extension that allows the automakers to continue to get an offset against the fuel efficiency standards for “flex-fuel” vehicles, which run on 85 percent ethanol. The offsets had been set to expire next year, but will now continue until 2014, after which it will be phased out over the next six years.