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McCain backs states' rules on emissions

In visit to Detroit, GOP candidate takes stance at odds with automakers.

Source:  Copyright 2008, Detroit News
Date:  July 19, 2008
Byline:  Gordon Trowbridge and J.j. McCorvey
Original URL: Status DEAD

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday he supports state efforts to limit auto emissions, a stance strongly at odds with the domestic carmakers -- and one his campaign tried to refine later in the day.

Appearing before about 500 General Motors workers at the company's technical center, McCain said, "It's hard for me to tell the states they can't set their own standards. ... At the end of the day, I think states should make their own decisions."

That's not only at odds with Detroit's auto companies -- who say imposition of state rules would cost them billions of dollars -- but it's a shift from a statement just last month, when McCain told a small group of reporters on a visit to Ohio that he would seek national standards on auto carbon emissions that would eliminate the need for state rules.

McCain made the remarks during his second visit in as many weeks to Metro Detroit. His campaign has heavily targeted Michigan, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads in hopes of winning a state that Republicans have lost in the last four presidential elections.

The campaign unveiled a tough ad as well, to air in Michigan and other battleground states, in which it accuses his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, of opposing funding for troops in Iraq and shifting his position on the war to gain votes. The Obama campaign dismissed it as a "patently misleading negative ad."

For McCain, Friday's visit, in which he got briefings on the Volt plug-in hybrid vehicle GM is developing, was intended to highlight his support for development of new auto technologies he says can help raise the domestic carmakers from their threatened status.

But his comments on state auto emission limits at least partially overshadowed his enthusiastic backing of the Volt.

Later Friday, a senior campaign aide sought to clarify McCain's position. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said McCain supports the ability of states to impose regulations until a national "cap and trade" program to limit carbon emissions, something McCain has proposed, is in place. Once carbon caps are established, the aide said, McCain would oppose state regulations.

"It makes a lot more sense to regulate carbon at the federal level because you're talking about a federal, a global, problem," the aide said.

Carmakers oppose limits
The emissions issue is a vital one to automakers, and particularly the cash-strapped domestic companies.

In 2005, California sought permission from the federal government to establish its own limits on carbon emissions from cars as a measure to combat climate change. Late last year, the federal EPA denied the request, which McCain and Obama both had supported.

Automakers have said the California regulations would cost them tens of billions of dollars. A GM executive testified last year that the rules could force the company to stop selling up to 80 percent of its vehicles in states that adopted California's requirements; so far, 12 states have said they want to join California, which is challenging the EPA's decision in federal court.

Friday, GM CEO Rick Wagoner reiterated the company's opposition to state-level regulation, saying the automaker needs one national standard to be successful.

Obama's support for California's request was a complication for his campaign as well Thursday. The campaign held a conference call for reporters with Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, to respond to McCain's visit.

Asked about California's request, Dingell, a dedicated opponent of the waiver, said: "If you're trying to destroy the auto industry, that's a pretty good way of beginning."

Later, Obama's top economic adviser Jason Furman said the candidate supports state regulatory efforts, but wants to establish federal rules "that would make that unnecessary." In a written statement, Furman said Obama would make sure the auto companies had federal aid to help meet new standards.

An early peek at the Volt
McCain began his visit with a look at the Volt, the electric car GM hopes to roll out in 2010. The car would run solely on batteries for 40 miles, enough for most daily commutes, and extend its range with a small gas motor that would recharge the battery.

Wagoner, vehicle development chief Bob Lutz and other GM executives showed McCain the concept Volt displayed at the 2007 auto show and a cut-away mockup of the battery-engine power system. Later, away from the media, McCain got a look at the production model, which GM has so far kept secret.

At the town hall meeting, McCain praised the car, calling it the future of the auto industry. But he got tough questions from a polite but probing crowd, pushing him on his support for free-trade agreements and oil drilling off the ocean coasts.

He got two rounds of applause during the hourlong session: once when he pledged to block imports of unsafe Chinese toys, the other after a long and passionate defense of the Iraq war.

"He said the things that we needed to hear," said Darlene Sobieski, a studio coordinator at the tech center. "The tax breaks, the abortion issue, the Iraq issue. ... I believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and I support the decision to invade Iraq."

"It's not what I expected from a Republican candidate," said engineer Srini Rajagopalan, 37, who isn't sure who is the better candidate. "He talked about energy diversity, energy independence. ... It's at least good to see something different."

Bob Schuster, 54, a model maker, called the decision "a tough call."

"I'm leaning toward Barack. McCain is honest and capable, but I'm not sure we share as many views as I like."

At a Detroit fund-raising reception Friday evening, McCain suggested that Obama's much anticipated trip to Iraq may come this weekend, according to the Reuters wire service.

The Obama campaign has kept the timing of the Iraq visit quiet for security reasons; members of Congress are strongly encouraged by the military not to disclose the timing of Iraq visits.

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