In September of 1990, when a gallon of gas was $1.16, the Senate took up a measure that would have bumped the average fuel efficiency of new cars to 40 miles per gallon. Faced with heavy opposition from the nation's automakers, however, the measure fell three votes shy of passage. Leading the congressional resistance was Michigan's influential delegation, which stepped in to protect its famously regional industry.
Eighteen years later, the price of gas is flirting with $4 per gallon, the global warming threat is ever-increasing and Detroit's auto industry is hemorrhaging workers. As America's big three automakers -- Ford, Chrysler and General Motors -- struggle to compete with smaller, more fuel efficient imports, a number of environmentalists, watchdog groups and former members of Congress contend that Michigan's lawmakers bear much of the blame for the industry's woes.
"For the last 20 years, the Michigan delegation felt that what was good for the big three was good for Michigan," said Brendan Bell, Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Instead, 20 years of inaction gave the big three the rope to hang themselves with."