WASHINGTON -- For more than a decade, the auto industry has
much got what it wanted in this town. Tighter fuel standards?
Forget about it. New safety standards? Small potatoes only, please.
But suddenly, Detroit is finding a new reason to worry about
Washington: global warming. Industry officials say there is no
greater threat to the American auto industry than a concerted
worldwide push to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-
called greenhouse gases, the suspected culprits in long-term global
Asked to rank the industry's major policy and regulatory concerns
over the next few years, a senior representative of the Big Three
answered, "Global warming is No. 1, and everything else is very far
No, Congress has not slipped out of Republican hands, and the
Sierra Club's lobbyists are still outnumbered on K Street. But Mike
Stanton, the chief Washington lobbyist for the American Automobile
Manufacturers Association, said the industry is watching with great
trepidation as officials debate the government's position on a
proposed global climate-change treaty.
With a prod from Vice President Al Gore, who sounded an early
alarm about possible global warming, the administration is expected
to endorse some form of binding international emissions standards
when representatives of 180 nations gather in December in Kyoto,
Japan, for a conference on global climate change.
It is not surprising then, that when the president met with the
chief executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler at the White
House last month to discuss trade policies, what he heard instead
were complaints about emissions control.
The Kyoto conference will lay the road map for the next five years
on how the world begins to cope with carbon emissions and their
effect on climate and health.
The proposal that frightens automakers most is one that will
impose strict emissions standards on the developed nations but
the developing world, where the growth in greenhouse gas emissions
expected to be much more rapid.
Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere, but it is also
emitted by cars, factories and the burning of carbon-based fuels
oil, coal and wood. Levels of this and other greenhouse gases are
rising and thought to be warming the planet by trapping sunlight
otherwise would be reflected back into space. The automobile is a
chief source of these gases. To environmental advocates, it is also
one of the easiest to control.
"The reason they think it's such a threat is that the biggest
single step we can take to prevent it is making our car go farther
a gallon of gas," said Dan Becker, the director of the Sierra Club's
global warming and energy program. "So we are advocating higher-
Becker said a car that gets 27.5 miles a gallon produces 38 tons
of carbon dioxide gas over a 10-year lifetime. A 45-mile-per-gallon
car emits 23 tons.
That is what worries automakers. One of their least-favorite
pieces of legislation over the last 20 years is the law imposing
corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE standards, forcing them to
sell two or three economy cars for every low-mileage, high-profit
There is no known way to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from
the burning of gasoline. Stanton said there are only two ways to
reduce such emissions: drive less or drive in cars that burn less
gas. That means either raising gasoline prices, imposing
transportation-control measures like car pooling or alternate-day
driving, or raising CAFE standards.
Each of these steps would impose huge costs on the industry -- and
thus car buyers -- with uncertain benefits, Stanton said.
"The truth of the matter is there are lots of questions on the
science of global warming," he said. …