Bush signs energy bill; heavy truck fuel mileage to be studied

| 12/19/2007

A federal energy bill that President Bush has signed into law includes a fuel mileage study for heavy trucks, increased mileage standards for passenger vehicles, and a mandate for increased use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

Prior to signing the bill Wednesday, Dec. 19, Bush said lawmakers have taken “a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels, and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

Some Democrats who supported the bill say the new law is too soft on Big Oil.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 314-100 on Tuesday to approve the bill known as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The Senate passed its version six days earlier with a vote of 86-8.

Increases to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, also known as the CAFE standards, are the cornerstone of the bill, but the increases will apply only to cars, light trucks and SUVs.

Heavy trucks do not currently have a mileage standard, but the energy act directs the National Academy of Sciences to study and develop fuel mileage standards for heavy trucks. The government could require efficiency improvements once a benchmark is determined.

Truck manufacturers have been resisting the implementation of mileage standards.

Officials with the Truck Manufacturers Association have said mileage varies greatly depending on the specific application of each truck. TMA President Robert M. Clarke said Wednesday a study should help bring clarity and educate regulators and manufacturers about what is realistic and what is not with a new standard.

“We’re starting off from ground zero,” Clarke told Land Line after President Bush signed the new law. “Light duty vehicles have had CAFE standards for 30 years. There’s a high degree of customization with trucks and we need to remember that these are work vehicles, cargo-carrying vehicles. There fundamentally needs to be a different reference point or starting off point.”

Clarke said the manufacturers’ association membership hopes to take an active role in the study.

“We are very intent on helping to shape the thought processes with what fuel standards for trucks will look like,” he said.

Truck manufacturers want at least four years of lead time before a regulation is finalized, Clarke said, and an additional three years for implementation.

Meanwhile, the mileage for passenger vehicles will be increased from 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 mpg for cars and from 22.5 mpg to 35 mpg for light trucks and SUVs. The increase is scheduled to occur in increments from model year 2011 through 2020.

The energy act also includes a provision to increase the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol from 6 billion gallons per year to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022.

Bush said the ethanol provision and the increase in mileage standards are part of his 2007 State of the Union promise to cut oil consumption by 20 percent by 2017.

Bush threatened to veto the energy package during deliberations. To get the bill approved, Senators removed $21 billion in tax increases, including some aimed at big oil.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, praised parts of the new law but is soured on some of the provisions that give breaks to large integrated oil companies.

“We are committed to an energy policy that invests in renewable energy, lowers gas prices, makes America more energy independent, reverses global warming and strengthens our national security,” Reid stated in a press release.

“While we are proud that this bill raises fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in a generation, we will not be satisfied until Republicans fully join us to put consumers’ interests ahead of Big Oil’s greed. By blocking tax incentives in renewable energy and standards to supply clean, renewable electricity, Republicans missed a chance to grow our new clean energy industries and build new-century jobs.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer