Lawmakers demand more fuel economy for big trucks

| 5/22/2007

By 2011, manufacturers of heavy trucks could be required to increase fuel mileage by 4 percent each year for the following 20 years.

A U.S. Senate bill introduced Thursday, May 17, by Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, aims to do just that. It includes emissions and fuel economy as part of a larger package relating to energy and the environment.

Reid’s bill – S1419 – includes a provision to amend the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards – known as the CAFE standards – for cars, light trucks, medium-duty trucks and heavy trucks.

The bill gives the Secretary of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency authorization to set the fuel economy standards.

“The average fuel economy required to be attained by the fleet of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks manufactured in the United States shall be at least 4 percent greater than the average fuel economy required to be attained for the fleet in the previous model year (rounded to the nearest one-tenth mile per gallon),” Section 502 of the bill states.

That language was originally introduced in another bill – S357 – authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, before being rolled into S1419.

Bill S1419 as a whole has yet to be scheduled for a full Senate vote, but its components have passed through various committees.

CAFE in its 34-year history has dealt specifically with fuel mileage standards for car manufacturers, and the standards haven’t been amended for 16 years.

Reid’s bill calls for increases in the average mileage for passenger vehicles from 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 mpg by 2020. That average allows manufacturers to continue to build so-called gas guzzlers, as long as they are also making fuel efficient vehicles to reach the average economy.

Emissions and economic concerns are part of a recent plan President Bush has unveiled for reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next decade. He has dubbed it the “20 in 10” plan.

For truck makers, the Senate bill calls for a 10-percent reduction in 10 years by way of the 4-percent annual increases in fuel economy.

President Bush and top administration officials are working on a number of ways to reduce emissions and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Bush signed an executive order 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.

Amending the CAFE standards would be a step, department officials said during a teleconference about Bush’s announcement.

For the fuel mileage increases to become regulations, a notice of a proposed rulemaking would occur “30 months before the model year for which the standard is to apply,” according to the Reid bill. The rulemaking would have to be in place 18 months prior to the standards taking place.

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

– By David Tanner, staff writer