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A government-run auto industry?

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"Unless the restructuring that is called for in this legislation and the goal of viability is achieved by March 31, there is no justification for spending more taxpayer dollars," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a briefing announcing the deal on Monday. Votes in the House and Senate are expected by the end of the week.

Debate over fuel conditions

But even before the final legislation takes shape, the debate over an auto rescue plan is already shifting the terms of longstanding environmental debates, especially over whether US auto manufacturers should be required to meet higher state fuel-economy standards.

"General Motors and Chrysler have said over and over in court that they can't make these standards work and stay in business," says Boston attorney Matthew Pawa, who represents environmental groups in lawsuits against auto companies.

Yet, in making their case for a bailout to Congress last week, both GM and Ford Motor Co. submitted plans that claim their companies will meet such standards.

"Now that Detroit is coming to Capitol Hill for money, there's a huge opening for Congress to require that they meet California's greenhouse-gas standards by enacting a one-sentence law that would effectively rule out these lawsuits," Mr. Pawa adds.

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