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Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Robert Nardelli will make his first trip to Capitol Hill Wednesday as the new Chairman and CEO of Chrysler LLC in the days before Congress is expected to take up the issue of raising fuel economy standards, The Detroit News has learned.

Nardelli is meeting with a number of U.S. senators, including Michigan Sens. Carl Levin, D-Detroit and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, as well as Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and George Voinovich, D-Ohio, congressional officials said. He is also scheduled to meet with U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Nardelli is the third of the Detroit Three CEOs to visit Washington in the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner met with White House national economic council director Al Hubbard and Nicole Nason, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last week, Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally met with Hubbard, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among other lawmakers.

Chrysler spokesman Colin McBean declined Monday to confirm or deny the Nardelli meetings. He said executives have meetings with members of Congress and administration officials "as a normal part of doing business."

The meetings come as House and Senate staffers are working to broker a deal on energy legislation.

The Senate in June passed a bill that would hike fuel economy requirements by 40 percent to a fleetwide average of 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks combined. But some senators that support the bill have backed a call by the United Auto Workers union to retain provisions in current law that will keep as many as 17,000 small car production jobs in the United States.

The House sidestepped the issue of fuel economy increases in August when it passed an energy bill amid strong support for an alternative bill backed by the Detroit automakers and Toyota. Motor Corp.

The softer bill, sponsored by Reps. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Lee Terry, R-Neb. would hike fuel economy by between 28 and 40 percent by 2022 to between 32 miles per gallon and 35 mpg.

Nardelli is meeting with several senators who backed a similar bill in the Senate. Levin said this summer that Chrysler -- with 70 percent of its sales in light trucks -- could go bankrupt without changes to the Senate bill.

The Hill-Terry measure has more than 170 co-sponsors in the House; 218 is a majority of the 435-member body.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are planning an advertising campaign to push Congress to pass the more aggressive Senate bill in the coming weeks.

"The Senate fuel economy provision provides automakers with the flexibility they want, while still cutting America's oil dependence, saving consumers billions at the pump, and curbing global warming," said Brendan Bell, Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Now more than ever, Congress should pass an energy bill that strengthens fuel economy standards."

Environmentalists note that Congress hasn't hiked fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars since 1985 and that the dangers of climate change, near-record oil prices and foreign dependence on producers makes it essential that Congress pass an aggressive fuel measure.

Domestic automakers say the Senate bill, which drops separate standards for light trucks and cars, would cost them more than $85 billion over 10 years and be difficult --if not impossible to meet. They say it would add thousands of dollars to the cost of vehicles, reduce sales and force them to stop building the largest, heaviest vehicles.
 

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Bring in legislation to the emissions stands that cuts fuel economy then expect the companies to up the fuel ratings. Unbelieveable.
 

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I would like to see the politicians put more emphasis on bio-diesel, ethanol, coal liqifaction, etc. and less knee-jerk type reactions to the problem. We need to be making clean diesel from coal, drilling in Alaska, researching other ideas like fuel from algae, switchgrass, etc. It seems that all some politicians know how to do is demand more fuel economy from the manufacturers. All they will accomplish by this is force us into smaller and smaller vehicles and we'll have nothing to pull our RVs with or haul our firewood on. I certainly don't want to ride around in a smart and have to hire commercial haulers to haul my purchases frome Lowes for me!
 
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