WASHINGTON — Rep. Elton Gallegly of California likes his taxpayer-funded Ford Expedition. He isn't worried that it's not the most fuel-efficient car. It's reliable, suits his mountainous district and is cheaper to lease than many other vehicles.
"It's not a Cadillac. It's not a Lincoln. It's a Ford," the Republican Congress member said with exasperation.
But like it or not, Gallegly and other lawmakers will have to give up gas-hungry SUVs and luxury sedans for leased vehicles that are more eco-correct, such as Toyota's Prius.
And some are in a high-octane fit about it.
Congress has been bearing down to do more about global warming. But a little-noticed amendment to last year's energy bill has hit especially close to home. It requires House members who lease vehicles through their office budgets to drive cars that emit low levels of greenhouse gases.
Congressional records show that about 125 members of the House take advantage of the benefit, which has been in place since at least the 1980s and is part of the allowance provided for their office operations. Not only does the federal government pick up the cost of the lease and the gas, but also general maintenance, insurance, registration fees and excess mileage charges. Representatives using the benefit include Alcee L. Hastings, D-Miami, who uses a 2006 Infiniti M45. There is no limit on how much they can spend.
Senators are not allowed to lease cars with public money.
The effort to steer lawmakers into vehicles that get better mileage comes as Congress has mandated more fuel-efficient vehicles for the public and pump prices have surged.
The requirement was sought by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who figured that if his colleagues were serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and U.S. dependence on foreign oil, they ought to put their foot where their mouth is.
Cleaver does. A taxpayer-funded Ford Econoline, a recycled airport shuttle he uses as a mobile office, runs on cooking grease. But he has heard grumbling from colleagues.
"They want their Lexuses and their Cadillacs," he said. "I just think it's a poor example for us to spend so much time talking about energy independence and global warming and presenting to the people an image of fat cats living the fat life."
Under the legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency will determine which vehicles lawmakers will be allowed to lease, a list that's expected before the end of the year.
Reaction has varied.
Some Republicans lashed out at Democrats, accusing the House leadership of hypocrisy.
"I will start driving a green car once Pelosi starts ballooning back and forth from coast to coast to save jet fuel," said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has made climate change a top priority.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the Chevy Suburban the speaker uses was selected by the aergeant at arms, who oversees her security. But he noted that she has asked that her next vehicle be a hybrid.
The requirement has drawn criticism from Democrats as well.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., drives a leased Ford Escape hybrid but voted against the requirement because "historically members have been held accountable by their constituents for these types of actions," said his spokeswoman.
A number of lawmakers scoffed at the requirement, saying that forcing lawmakers into less-polluting vehicles would do almost nothing to influence climate change and suggested that Congress could take more significant action to reduce oil imports.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.