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Boehner to Waxman: No on California Emission Changes

Well, it didn’t take long for House Republicans to recognize that having Henry Waxman atop the House Energy and Commerce Committee is a greater threat to the GOP’s agenda than having John Dingell perched there.

In a Nov. 21 letter to Waxman, who defeated Dingell for the E&C chairmanship yesterday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged the California liberal not to use his new powers to push legislation allowing his home state to set stricter vehicle emissions standards. California, along with more than a dozen other states, has submitted a waiver with the Environmental Protection Agency to install new allowances. The waiver, which would cut emissions 30 percent by 2016, was denied by the Bush administration. Dingell is also a fierce opponent.

Boehner, in his letter, outlines the reason that the automakers and their Washington supporters disapprove.

“This change would effectively bar the American auto manufacturers from competing in the largest market in America,” Boehner wrote, “unless they make substantial changes in manufacturing that would increase costs to consumers, making the “Big 3″ even less competitive — and making their collapse even more likely.”

There are several holes in that argument. First, the states currently waiting in line to adopt new standards sell 45 percent of the nation’s vehicles, meaning the change would force the automakers either to produce two sets of cars, or make California’s plan the national model. Daniel Becker, directer of the Safe Climate Campaign, said approval of the waivers would create “a de facto national standard.”

Second, many experts attribute the industry’s current troubles to a failure of the Big Three to produce the smaller, cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars that Americans want to buy. The very manufacturing changes Boehner suggests will kill the industry, these observers say, are actually its only lifeline. Lawmakers like Dingell who have resisted these reforms in the name of helping the industry, they add, have really just protected it to death.

David Jenkins, director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, said GOP leaders like Boehner should be careful not to go after Waxman and others who would push environmental reforms supported by the public. “That would be a big mistake,” Jenkins said. “If the party gets on the wrong side of that [the environmental debate], they’ll be on the wrong side of history — and they’ll be out of power for a long time.”

The debate might be unnecessary. President-elect Barack Obama, who also supports the California waiver, will have the power (through the EPA) to approve it without any congressional action. Indeed, he has already vowed to do just that.

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