House energy bill rejects car fuel economy boost

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A House committee on Thursday approved legislation that would increase the energy efficiency of home appliances and promote plug-in hybrid vehicles, but the measure fell short of a related Senate bill that seeks to increase the fuel economy of cars and trucks.

However, House Democratic leaders said a final energy package will include higher vehicle mileage requirements and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she supported the fuel economy boost contained in the Senate legislation.

The bill, which cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a 33-21 vote, would require clothes washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers to use less energy, and require more efficient light bulbs.

The bill would also provide government funding to develop plug-in electric vehicles and promote alternative fuels like ethanol.

However, the panel voted against including an auto fuel-efficiency package supported by U.S. automakers in the package, by a margin of 31-26.

Unlike the Senate energy legislation passed last week, the House bill does not increase fuel mileage requirements for cars and trucks, which many energy experts say is necessary to significantly cut U.S. gasoline consumption and oil imports.

The Senate’s energy bill would boost the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, known as CAFE, for vehicles by 10 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Rep. John Dingell, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce panel, said his committee would consider higher vehicle fuel economy standards with climate change legislation this fall.

“We’re going to consider it in the fall, and we’re going to have a good bare-knuckle fight,” Dingell said.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the senior Republican on the committee, said a summer debate on CAFE was inevitable and that panel members should stake out a position before the full House takes up the bill.

“If we’re going to have a debate on CAFE, this is the time to do it,” Barton said.

Speaking at a press briefing to tout the “Energy Independence Day” that the House measure aims to provide to the United States, Pelosi said she backed the Senate’s 35 mpg vehicle fuel efficiency requirement.

However, Pelosi would not say whether the stronger CAFE standards would be added to the energy bill next month, when the measure is brought to the House floor for debate.

Pelosi said she and Dingell were “in conversation” on how to proceed on the issue and that his committee and the rest of Congress “will work its will.”

However, House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said language to raise vehicle mileage requirements would be inserted into the House bill before it is sent over to be reconciled with the Senate’s energy legislation.

“CAFE ultimately will be a part of the bill,” Hoyer said.

The efficiency provisions in the House energy bill would have the effect of removing 8.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, equal to the annual emissions spewed by all the cars now on U.S. roads, according to Dingell.

The House’s final energy package will actually be 11 separate energy bills rolled into one giant measure to be melded with the Senate’s energy legislation, which lawmakers hope President George W. Bush will sign into law.

However, the White House has already expressed some concerns about parts of the Senate bill and threatened a veto.