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Old 07-29-2003, 22:55   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Senate rejects proposal to raise fuel economy

By Harry Stoffer
Automotive News / July 29, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted overwhelming Tuesday against a proposal to raise fuel economy standards by 45 percent for cars by the 2015 model year - and by an even greater amount for some trucks.

There were 32 votes in favor and 65 opposed to the proposal from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

The margin was similar to a major vote taken in March 2002 against a proposal to boost the fuel economy of cars and trucks by nearly 50 percent in a decade.

In short, no headway is being made by environmental groups and other vocal proponents of using fuel economy standards to reduce U.S. reliance on imported oil and to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.

The latest proposal, if adopted, would have required "passenger vehicles" to average 40 mpg by 2015 and many light trucks to average 27.5 mpg by 2015. Significantly, it would have included SUVs in the passenger vehicle category. It also would have expanded the reach of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program to include bigger light trucks that have been exempt, and raised fines for companies that fail to meet CAFE standards.

The standards in effect are 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks, including SUVs, but the Bush administration has adopted regulations to raise the truck standard in three steps to 22.2 mpg by the 2007 model year.

Automakers have argued that the CAFE program is fundamentally flawed because it does not take into account consumer preferences. They also they have said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is better able than lawmakers to decide what levels of fuel economy are achievable. The companies, along with dealers, suppliers, the UAW and other allies, have mounted vigorous lobbying campaigns to make sure Congress does not adopt significantly higher fuel economy standards.

After rejecting the Durbin proposal, senators voted 66-to-30 in favor of an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. It directs NHTSA to raise CAFE for cars and trucks to the highest possible levels, while taking into account a range of factors, including employment in the automobile industry and the relative competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers and import-brand competitors.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, charged that the Levin-Bond amendment would actually create additional hurdles NHTSA's consideration of higher CAFE standards.

"This is not progress," he said.

The CAFE votes came in the midst of Senate attempts to wade through hundreds of proposed amendments to a comprehensive national energy bill.

If and when the Senate completes consideration of its bill, that version will have to be reconciled with a different one already passed by the House.
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