Automakers and the EPA: Frenemies in the Fight For Federal Regulation

Last Updated Feb 26, 2010 5:19 PM EST

U.S. automakers and the EPA have become frenemies in the fight for -- get this -- more federal regulation. It's an odd alliance born out of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

It's not that automakers have suddenly embraced regulation of their industry. On the contrary. They're simply afraid of several states, including California, that have much more ambitious and stricter guidelines waiting in the wings.

The Department of Transportation this week -- and automakers last year -- warned if the EPA can't regulate greenhouse gases it would likely kill a historic deal on new national standards for increased fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions. Without the joint DOT-EPA deal, California and other states would enact their own regulations of auto emissions, creating an expensive and rather chaotic welter of rules for the industry.

Of course, the DOT could still regulate the mileage/fuel economy portion of the agreement, but that wouldn't help automakers. Manufacturers would still have to contend with a variety of different state tailpipe standards.

The auto industry has historically fought any attempt by the EPA or the DOT to regulate fuel economy or emissions. But now automakers now want -- and need -- federal regulation to avoid economic disaster. Which is ironic, because Murkowski uses the same argument.

The EPA declared last year that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are a threat to public health and welfare, a ruling that opened the door to direct regulation of emissions, specifically those from cars. Major industries including oil, gas and coal have criticized the EPA decision and continue to argue regulation will "chill job growth and delay business expansion." Murkowski believes Congress -- not the EPA -- is the only agency that can be trusted to responsibly deal with climate change.

Murkowski's previous attempts to take away the EPA's power may have failed, but she hasn't give up the fight. The EPA has even backed off its plans to regulate greenhouse gases until 2011 and Murkowski is still gunning for them. Next week the Alaskan senator is expected to seek a motion of disapproval in Congress, which would reverse the EPA's endangerment ruling.

Photo by Flickr user Simone Ramella, CC 2.0