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    Administration Announces Weak New Mileage Standards

Posted on Truthout

    Wednesday 24 August 2005

    Amidst rising oil and gas prices, the Bush Administration yesterday announced its new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for light trucks. Environmentalists say the proposed rule changes will do nothing to help American motorists at the pump, nor will they reduce America's dependence on imported oil.

    The new standards appear to raise the current light truck standard of 22.2 miles per gallon (mpg) in model year 2007 to a fleet-wide standard of 24 mpg by model year 2011.

    However, the new standards actually exempt vehicles weighing from 8,500 to 10,000 pounds - such as the Hummer H2, Ford Excursion, and some models of the Chevy Suburban - all vehicles that achieve very poor mileage due to their size. [1]

    Environmentalists argue that the Bush Administration should make use of the latest in automotive technology and establish a more stringent fleet-wide average standard. Ironically, General Motors is already producing a vehicle in China that achieves 43 miles per gallon.

    "Instead of harnessing America's technological know-how to require light trucks and autos to meet a 40-mile per gallon (mpg) average standard," said Anna Aurilio, US PIRG legislative director, "the Administration has proposed a pathetically weak increase in light truck miles per gallon standards and has given automakers an opportunity to game the system by increasing the size of their SUVs and other light trucks."

    According to the Sierra Club, a 40-mpg standard would save the average driver $2,200 in fuel savings over the lifetime of a vehicle. [2] The distribution of light trucks into six size-based categories was supported by the big three US automakers, General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler AG. [3]

    Department of Transportation Secretary Norman T. Mineta boasts that, "This is a plan that will save gas and result in less pain at the pump for motorists without sacrificing safety." [4]

    But Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming Program, says the new standards will do nothing to help consumers save money at the gas pump, reduce oil dependence or curb global warming. "At a time when Americans are paying record prices for gas, the Bush administration has sided with its cronies in the auto industry and rejected real solutions," said Becker.

    "Unfortunately, the proposed gains in fuel economy are likely to be eliminated as a result of the radical overhaul of the current structure," the Sierra Club said in a statement released yesterday. [5]


    [1] "Bush Administration Fuel Economy Fails to Address Rising Gas Prices," Sierra Club, Aug. 23, 2005.
    [2] Ibid.
    [3] "Bush Admin Unveils New CAFE Standards for Light Trucks," Greenwire, Aug. 23, 2005.
    [4] "Government Proposes New Fuel Standards," Business Week, Aug. 23, 2005.
    [5] Sierra Club op. cit.

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    Be More Aggressive on Gas-Mileage Standards
    DesMoines Register | Editorial

    Wednesday 24 August 2005

New fuel-economy standards for trucks, SUVs are too modest to wean US from foreign oil.

    The proposed new fuel-economy standards for pickups, vans and sport-utility vehicles proposed Tuesday by the Bush administration represent a modest step when the times cry out for bolder action.

    The soaring price of gasoline - an Iowa statewide average of $2.55 a gallon for regular, up $0.74 from a year ago - is pinching commuters hard, as well as farmers, truckers and airlines. The effects are rolling through the economy as consumers have less money to spend elsewhere, cutting sales of Wal-Mart's staples and Winnebago Industries' recreational vehicles.

    But the immediate pain of higher gasoline prices isn't the biggest reason to be more aggressive. It will take years before more fuel-efficient cars and trucks start rolling off assembly lines. Three better reasons:

  • Reducing gas guzzling would start weaning the nation from dependence on foreign oil, especially from the Middle East, where instability could cut off supplies at any time and where some of the profits fund terrorism against the United States.

  • Growing economies in China, India and elsewhere are soaking up more oil, but world supplies are finite. That means fuel prices will likely continue to climb. In turn, continued growth of oil imports will further balloon the US trade deficit.

  • Increased fuel economy would reduce accumulation of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

    Government-mandated standards have improved fuel economy beyond what consumer preferences would have achieved, a study ordered by Congress in 2001 found. But their effectiveness has been undermined because pickups, vans and SUVs have been classified not as passenger cars but as light trucks, allowing them to meet lower standards. Automakers currently must maintain an average of 27.5 miles per gallon for passenger cars but only 21 mpg for light trucks. Under the proposed standards, a minivan now required to average 21 mpg would be required to get 23.3 mpg by 2011, according to the Associated Press.

    Automakers will complain about the unfairness of government mandates. But a new study by the National Environmental Trust concludes that tougher fuel-economy rules for cars and trucks would add 15,000 jobs by the end of the next decade, because it would force automakers to produce vehicles that consumers actually want.

    The study for Congress recommended allowing automakers broad flexibility to trade fuel-economy credits, a concept incorporated in the administration's proposed rules. That would give automakers flexibility to meet changing consumer demands while still achieving overall fuel-economy targets.

    The simplest, most market-driven approach would be to drop fuel-economy standards altogether and raise the national gasoline tax. The resulting consumer demand for higher-mileage autos would prompt automakers to produce them. But don't expect logic to prevail over politics.

    Other steps would increase energy independence, too, from more use of renewable alternative fuels, including ethanol, to stepped-up development and use of hybrid-electric and advanced-diesel vehicles.

    None of that will help today's Iowa families struggling to pay higher prices each time they fill up the tank. But the outcry might provide the political cover to adopt the tougher fuel-economy requirements that would offer relief in the distant future.