Thursday, December 13, 2007

Car companies win concession (sort of) in the pending Senate energy bill -- but will it mean anything but more lawsuits?

For those of you following the energy bill, please note the “colloquy” this morning between Senators Levin, Feinstein and Inouye.

You will recall that Senator Levin was shopping an amendment on behalf of the car companies to torpedo efforts by the US EPA and states, led by California, to limit greenhouse gases.

That amendment was not adopted in the bill, but an arcane compromise was cooked up.

These senators had a “colloquy” explaining their interpretation of the Senate fuel economy provisions. In that staged discussion, Feinstein and Inouye agree with Levin that any EPA greenhouse gas rules should be "consistent" with the Department of Transportation fuel economy requirements included in the Senate energy bill.

At first glance, it seems pretty disappointing. What the heck was Feinstein thinking? This staged discussion doesn’t exactly bolster California’s position in seeking to enforce its greenhouse gas standards. The legal experts will be arguing over this stuff for years!

It could be just a face-saving move for Levin.

But it probably gives the car companies a hook to browbeat EPA and to continue lawsuits against tougher limits on greenhouse gases. They probably won’t have a winning case – look at all the suits on this issue they’ve already lost, including yesterday in California.

In this case, the car companies probably will lose again. The court will probably say that if you wanted to prevent the states from acting you should have said so in the bill itself.

But it’s obviously not the last we’re going to hear about this issue. We expect other lawmakers to state things a little differently -- that this law does not eliminate existing EPA or state authority, which is literally the truth.

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