New car and truck dealers in the US are supporting vehicle manufacturers in their fight against the introduction of tougher fuel economy standards.

Speaking at their annual national convention, the chairman of NADA (the National Automobile Dealers Association), made a rally call for dealers to support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to deny California its waiver to introduce tougher fuel economy standards.

"This is no time for us to relax," said incoming chairman Annette Sykora. "In fact, it is because dealers were actively engaged in the CAFE debate that the industry can live to fight another day," she said.

NADA says it does support federal standards for 35mpg by 2020, a 35% improvement over today's levels, but opposes any legislation that would allow states like California to act independently.

California plans to reduce tailpipe emissions and regulate greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks by 30% by 2016, starting with the 2009 model year.

The Environment News Service reported that at least 18 other states have passed laws following the California Clean Car programme, but according to the Clean Air Act, the EPA must grant California's waiver request before any other state can implement its tailpipe emissions program.

"We support a national approach to fuel economy, not a confusing and costly state-by-state patchwork of regulations that could threaten vehicle availability, affordability, safety, and the ability of dealers to engage in interstate vehicle sales and trades," Sykora said.

NADA appears to be concerned that customers will hold on to their old high-polluting vehicles if they feel they are being denied suitable alternatives.

The EPA decision to deny California its waiver is being contested. "It is unconscionable for the Bush administration to stand in the way and keep California and the other states from stepping up to the challenge of global warming," wrote California Congressman Henry Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

He is requesting copies of documents that led to the EPA's decision and is requesting that the decision be referred to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative branch of Congress. Seven other senators have joined in the request for an investigation, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Separately, NADA's outgoing chairman, Dale Willey, offered a much more positive role for dealers in his remarks to the convention. He said that dealers are 'uniquely qualified to connect three sectors that drive the US auto industry - consumers, automakers and Congress.

"We are the bridge that connects the consumer to the manufacturer," Willey said. "We hear everything the car buyer likes or doesn't like about a vehicle." He said dealers should work with vehicle manufacturers to help them create more fuel efficient cars that consumers will buy. "Dealers also understand the consumer's desire to get better gas mileage," he said.