Turf battle

Turf battle http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070119/AUTO02/701190361/1148/AUTO01
Auto industry's future at issue as House Speaker Pelosi and Mich.'s Dingell
clash over who leads energy, climate reform
If you don't think all politics are local, ask Rep. John Dingell. The Dearborn Democrat, dean of the House, is battling an assault by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on his power, the Energy and Commerce Committee he again heads and the industry he's spent 50 years in Congress defending. This from the speaker he swore in with great fanfare little more than two weeks ago.
Harry Truman had it right: If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
Convinced legislation to ostensibly curb global warming and America's addiction to oil are key to Democrats retaining power in 2008, Pelosi Thursday announced creation of a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming -- two issues, clearly in Dingell's bailiwick, that could have profound effects on any automaker selling cars and trucks in the United States.
"We already have many of the techniques that we need to reduce global warming pollution, and American ingenuity will supply the rest," Pelosi said in a statement, calling the impact of global warming "overwhelming and unequivocal."
Predictably, Detroit's automakers are lining up behind Dingell, who outlined his own plans for climate change hearings in a memo dated Wednesday. They worry Pelosi's panel, described by her as having no "legislative jurisdiction," still would frame the public debate and influence new energy legislation by the July 4 holiday that might do more harm than good for companies fighting to get off their backs.
"Our best bet to have a sane climate change proposal is to have John Dingell there," a ranking Detroit auto executive close to the situation tells me. "Not because he's pro-auto, but because he's fair. He'll have everybody from Al Gore to right-wing Republicans there" to testify on potential legislation.
Detroit's automakers no longer even debate whether global warming or climate change or greenhouse gas emissions are a problem (they'll tell you they are) or whether they will get some kind of political answer in this Congress (they'll tell you they will).
They acknowledge that the success of rival Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius hybrids show the benefit of being green. They're moving quickly to close the gap with hybrid SUVs, and GM is touting a plug-in hybrid concept, the Chevy Volt. They hear the complaints of lawmakers who want an American-brand hybrid, but find few options.
They understand the hypocrisy of rhetorically backing energy independence even as they show, by their dismal financial results, how utterly reliant their U.S. businesses still are on gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs.
Which is why, after taking a brutal beating with $3-a-gallon gas and plunging truck sales, they are eager to offset their relief that gas is now below $2 a gallon with calls to push development of battery technology and alternative-energy powertrains.
And Metaldyne Corp. Chairman Tim Leuliette used an industry conference to call for higher federal gas taxes that would adjust as oil prices change. The goal is to keep prices as high as $5 a gallon to force the transition to a hydrogen infrastructure.
"Gasoline is too cheap in America," Leuliette said. "When fuel prices are low, there is little interest on Wall Street, Main Street or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
Fair enough. The question for Detroit, as well as rivals based in Germany and Japan, is who will influence the process that produces likely legislation. Will it be Dingell and lawmakers from auto-producing states? Or will it be an ad hoc coalition of coastal Democrats from California, New York and Massachusetts whose constituents wouldn't bear the brunt of change?
For Detroit's automakers and, especially, the United Auto Workers who enthusiastically greeted the return of Democrats to power, those aren't arcane political questions with little meaning.
The party that controls the House and Senate is less important to the Washington policy issues facing the auto industry than where the players are from. With the exception of New York's Sen. Hillary Clinton, a growing number of Democrats and many Republicans show scant interest in what ails Detroit or how new policy could affect it.
Republicans from Alaska, swimming in oil, are allying with coastal Democrats in proposing increases in federal fuel economy rules. For red-state Republicans with Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai plants, Detroit's automakers aren't creating jobs -- the foreign-owned companies are.
That's what ol' Dingell is up against. It's not easy -- even for the lion of the House.
-- The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. T.R. April 10, 1899
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