Feds, lawmakers demand better fuel economy; big trucks on list

| 5/15/2007

Fuel economy standards haven’t changed as much over the years as emissions standards have, but that could change if a bill in the Senate Commerce Committee becomes law.

Also, if an executive order from President Bush becomes a regulation in the next year or two, there could be even more changes.

The Senate bill – S357 – was introduced in January by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, and sent to Commerce Committee for development. It would revise federal fuel-mileage guidelines known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy – or CAFE for short – for cars and light trucks.

And, for the first time in its 34-year history dating back to the Arab oil embargo, the CAFE standards could, if adopted, include provisions for heavy-truck manufacturers.

“For the first time, medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks will be subject to fuel economy standards, which will address a significant sector in transportation use,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-HI, stated in a press release.

The effect of the proposed changes to CAFE would increase fuel mileage for new cars from 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 mpg by 2020. Specific mileage standards for new heavy trucks are not referenced in the Feinstein bill.

The bill steers clear of rail, buses and recreational vehicles; however, it does contain exemptions for vehicle manufacturers should the changeover to more efficient systems becomes too cost-prohibitive.

Bush and top administration officials are working on more than one way to reduce emissions and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Bush signed an executive order on Monday, May 14, directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to coordinate possible regulatory actions for cars and trucks that contribute to global climate change.

The goal is to reduce gasoline consumption in the U.S. by 20 percent in 10 years, known as the “20 in 10” plan.

“The Bush administration is taking the first regulatory step to address greenhouse gas emissions from cars,” EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said during a teleconference.

The conference included Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and representatives from the White House and Department of Agriculture.

Johnson said the process for implementing Bush’s order will follow the path of a federal rulemaking, which he said could see the light of day by the end of 2008.

“While the president’s ‘20 in 10’ plan, which would increase the supply of renewable and alternative fuel and reform the CAFE standard, will serve as a guide, we have not reached any conclusion about what the final regulation will look like,” Johnson said.

The Feinstein bill headed back to the Senate could see quicker action, Inouye stated.

– By David Tanner, staff writer