Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska with reporters

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, responds to reporters.

New proposals in the Senate and House to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases have little chance of stopping higher fuel efficiency standards from going into effect.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last week introduced a bill to block EPA’s power under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions from motor vehicles and other sources. Two key House Democrats followed with a similar bill.

Murkowsk’s efforts to block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions started last fall. She first introduced an amendment in September 2009, saying the regulations would result in an “economic train wreck.” At that time, Murkowski said the block on EPA’s powers would only affect stationary emissions sources—like power plants, refineries and manufacturers—and that regulation of automobile emissions could continue. The Senate declined to take up Murkowski’s proposal.

The new proposals put vehicle emissions back into consideration. Yet, these plans have little hope because efforts to block the EPA would face a tough battle from a Democratic-led Congress and would face a veto from President Obama.

The Key to a Single MPG Law

The new proposals would undermine the 2007 Supreme Court ruling giving the EPA the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act—which was fundamental in securing a grand compromise between the auto industry, labor, legislators and environmentalists for a single national standard for fuel efficiency. New Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency rules, proposed in 2009 and scheduled to phase in beginning in 2011—require cars and trucks to average 35.5 mpg by 2016, up from 24 mpg today.

The proposed higher fuel efficiency standards are expected to reduce emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. That’s the projected equivalent of taking 58 million cars off the road for an entire year. It would save motorists $3,000 in fuel over the lifetime of the vehicles, but add an average of $1,300 to the purchase price of a new vehicle.

Automakers welcomed the single national efficiency standard, because it provides clear national goals to reach. Their plans for more hybrids and introduction of electric cars are, in part, predicated on the need to reach these new standards.

A successful effort to block the EPA could jeopardize the single MPG rule, and ultimately force automakers to spend even more money to produce more fuel-efficient cars. That’s because California and a dozen states could go forward, each with its own rules, creating confusion for automakers, which would need to understand and respond to multiple rules in different regions of the country.

O. Kevin Vincent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s chief counsel, said Murkowski’s bill “would have profoundly adverse effects on the national economy, national environmental and energy security objectives, and the economically distressed automobile manufacturing industry.”