The White House and several Cabinet agencies have denounced recommendations by the Environmental Protection Agency, which would have sharply limited tailpipe emissions, notably in the form of carbon dioxide, considered a major form of global warming gas.
Ironically, the move comes just days after President Bush lent his apparently reluctant support at the G8 summit - a meeting of the eight industrial world leaders - to new rules meant to curb CO2 emissions.
Since there is a direct link between fuel consumption and the production of CO2, the EPA originally planned to call for new mileage standards of 38.3 mpg by 2020, which would have been 10 percent above the minimum 35 mpg requested by Congress. That had raised serious concerns among automakers, especially truck-heavy Detroit brands, because of the cost. Just meeting the 35 mpg standard, it has been estimated, will cost General Motors about $17 billion.
A watered-down, 588-page report issued Friday by the EPA called for no specific actions and reached no firm conclusions. A section asserting that the automakers could reach further than the Congressional minimum was abandoned from the new report. And the final draft made mention of the cost of increasing mileage - and the time it will take, what automakers call "lead time."
But the EPA also released a copy of a tougher, earlier draft sent to the White House last month.
"The onerous command-and-control regulation contemplated in the EPA staff draft would impose crippling costs on the economy in the form of a massive hidden tax, without even ensuring that the intended overall emissions reductions occur," said White House press secretary Dana Perino.
The auto industry victory may be a short-lived one, however. Both presidential candidates have indicated their openness to consider tougher emissions standards - and mileage rules - once one of them is elected in November.
While conservative White House supporters were pleased by the EPA's decision to back off on emissions, the revised draft drew sharp criticism from environmentalists. "The administration is fiddling while the planet melts," the Detroit News quoted David Baron, managing attorney with the nonprofit group Earthjustice.
Would tougher emissions standards be too onerous for the auto industry to accept? Or are automakers and the White House happily colluding while the planet keeps heating up?