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Senate energy bill will hurt the U.S. auto industry

I understand that the political process can be rough in Washington, but it's still hard to read some of the attacks on the auto industry during the spirited debate on national energy legislation. Let me cut through the noise: America's auto industry matters to this country and we recognize the responsibility we have to create a better life.

That's why we are also committed to improving vehicle fuel economy and being part of a broader solution to address energy security and climate change.

American auto manufacturers are the core of the industrial base of the U.S. economy. DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors not only help move Americans on the road, along with billions of dollars of goods and services, they have also created a livelihood for millions of workers at manufacturing facilities -- 1,850 alone here in Buffalo -- and also at auto parts and supplier companies, dealerships and more.

On the energy front, we're running at full speed. GM is pursuing a strong product plan based on technology and alternative energy to reduce our nation's dependence on petroleum and lower vehicle emissions. Over the last 30 years, GM has more than doubled its passenger car fleet fuel economy and increased its light truck fuel fleet fuel economy by 75 percent.

You add it up, and there's a lot at stake -- from jobs, to economic growth, to America's long-term competitiveness -- riding on energy legislation and it's important that Congress get it right. The U.S. Department of Transportation has estimated the new Senate-backed CAFE standards will cost the auto industry more than $114 billion, of which $80 billion will fall on the shoulders of America's domestic automakers.

This price tag -- the largest ever imposed on one industry -- comes at a time when all of us are working to transform our businesses. The Senate's energy bill dismisses such economic consequences along with sound science and the fundamental difference between cars and trucks. The Senate's energy bill calls for a fuel economy average of 35 mpg for cars and trucks combined.

Such an extreme 40 percent increase is not achievable by any current technology possessed by any automaker. These extreme increases also ignore the legitimate need that light trucks serve for small business, contractors, farmers and families. If the Senate's proposed fuel economy increases pass, the likely result will be auto manufacturing moving to other countries in order to build smaller vehicles that customers don't want to buy.

We must hope the House of Representatives understands these critical consequences and will stand up for American workers. We're willing to do our part, including improving CAFE standards, and to work closely with Congress on energy solutions that can make a real difference. We believe Congress can do this in a way that helps the country without hurting America's auto industry and hurting us all.

Steve Finch is plant manager of GM Powertrain Tonawanda Engine plant.

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