September 14, 2005

Bipartisan bill would require better mileage

By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of House
lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require
automakers to boost the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to an
average 33 miles per gallon over the coming decade from the
current 25 mpg.

Hurricane Katrina's effect on U.S. gasoline supplies is a
wake-up call for the nation to begin trying to slow oil demand
growth, the lawmakers said. The United States is the world's
biggest consumer of oil, and most of it is used for

New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert and Massachusetts
Democrat Ed Markey said the stricter mileage standard proposed
in their legislation would save an estimated 2.6 million
barrels of oil per day by 2025.

Environmental groups and many Democrats have called for
stricter mileage standards for years but U.S. automakers have
resisted, saying such changes would be costly to make and could
result in lighter, less-safe vehicles for consumers.

Last week, the Republican head of the Senate Energy
Committee made a surprising plea for lawmakers to take a closer
look at mileage requirements, also known as the Corporate
Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Sen. Pete Domenici said
stricter standards may be needed as one of several ways to ease
rising gasoline costs for consumers.

"Without a doubt, the biggest beneficiaries of this bill
will be the American consumers. They are sick and tired of
paying skyrocketing prices for gasoline. They want relief,"
Boehlert said in a statement.

The stricter standards mean that buyers of sport utility
vehicles and pick-up trucks could save an estimated $2,000 in
fuel costs over the life of the vehicle, based on a retail
gasoline price of $2 a gallon, the lawmakers said.

The legislation would also strengthen national security by
reducing the growth in imported oil, he said. The United States
consumes nearly 21 million barrels per day of oil, and more
than half must be imported.

"This bill, more so than any provision in the
recently-enacted energy bill, will lessen that dependence,"
Boehlert said.

The lawmakers cited a 2002 National Academy of Sciences
study which said technologies already exist to squeeze more
mileage out of a gallon of gasoline, without sacrificing
safety. Boehlert also noted U.S. automakers recently signed a
voluntary agreement with Canada on greenhouse gas emissions
that effectively raises fuel efficiency by 25 percent for
vehicles sold in that country.

The bill would allow the Transportation Department to set
separate mileage standards based on vehicle sizes, as long as
the overall average of the fleet is at least 33 mpg.

The House measure is sponsored by ten Republicans,
including Ray LaHood of Illinois and Jim Leach of Iowa, and
eight Democrats.