Congress makes Gore’s visit convenient

Marketplace Staff Mar 21, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: The real star power in Washington today, though, was up on Capitol Hill. Al Gore was welcomed back to Congress with open arms. Senate and House committees convened hearings on global warming today. Including the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Michigan Democrat John Dingell, who hasn’t so far been associated with fighting climate change.

John Dimsdale’s in Washington covering the hearing for us. Hi John.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Hey, Kai.

RYSSDAL: No small irony that it’s John Dingell chairing this hearing.

DIMSDALE: You know, you’re right. He was the first committee chairman in the new Congress to extend an invitation to Al Gore to bring his academy award-winning pitch to Congress. John Dingell is the longest serving member of Congress, the Dean of the House. He knows his way around the Capitol. He’s a big, imposing guy, he’s known as “Big John.” Also called a bulldog, and at 80 years old, I think he’s beginning to look the part. He’s been the champion of the domestic car companies from way back when the Big Three were riding high. And he’s still always quick to point out that car-making accounts for 4 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, and therefore this is an industry that should be nurtured.

In front of Dingell’s committee today, Al Gore criticized the auto industry’s stubbornness on fuel efficiency

JOHN DINGELL: We all know that the less-efficient vehicles that cost more money to operate when the price of oil goes up — which was not completely unpredictable, by the way — are hard to sell now. And the companies that are doing better are ones that have more efficient vehicles.

RYSSDAL: Well John, did Congressman John Dingell just wake up one day and have a change a heart? Or is this more strategic on his part, figuring that it’s better to be riding the crest of the wave than stuck behind it?

DIMSDALE: Oh, I think more the later. As I say, he’s a survivor. He knows which way the winds are blowing. Although he is an unlikely candidate to be a born-again treehugger. But he’s been sounding more and more like he’s convinced that global wamring is real, and he admits that cars are part of the problem. What he’s going to do is just make sure that Congress spreads the pain. Let’s make sure that coal-burning utilities, energy-intensive factories, that they participate in these caps on carbon emmissions

RYSSDAL: We’re not going to see him, though, come out tomorrow morning and recommend tougher line on

cafe standards, fuel-effiency standards, are we?

DIMSDALE: No. No, we’re not. He’s been a long opponent of forcing car companies to build more fuel-efficient cars. He fought them back in the 70s, after the first oil embargos. In the end, he negotiated the best deal he could for the industry: 27.5 miles-per-gallon for a fleet average. And it sounds like he’s going to be repeating that favor for his constituents this year as Congress is looking at another increase in cafe standards.

RYSSDAL: John, the Democrats have said they want some sort of global warming legislation, Speaker Pelosi I think said by this summer. Is this really the first inkling of what we might get out of that legislation?

DIMSDALE: Absolutely. I think the proponents are looking for something around 35 miles to the gallon, maybe even 40 miles to the gallon. So there’s some heavy negotiating going on.

RYSSDAL: All right. Marketplace’s Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale. Thank you, John.

DIMSDALE: Thanks, Kai.

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.