May 9, 2006

Mineta says US gov’t cars should be fuel efficient

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Transportation Secretary Norman
Mineta said on Tuesday he would support legislation requiring
that new vehicles purchased by the federal government get the
highest gas mileage possible.

Mineta did not specify a mileage standard for government
vehicles at a Senate hearing on whether to raise fuel economy
targets for all passenger cars. But he agreed with California
Democrat Barbara Boxer's general proposal that the federal
fleet should be efficient.

"Sure, that sounds good," Mineta replied when asked by
Boxer if he would support her plan. Specific models were not
discussed nor was a timetable or other details.

The government buys about 60,000 vehicles annually for 75
government agencies nationwide, according to the General
Services Administration.

There were more than 200,000 vehicles in the fleet in 2005,
including trucks and buses. The government also leases vehicles
from commercial sources.

Many government vehicles in Washington, including those
that ferry officials like Mineta and members of Congress, are
large sedans or sport utilities, which get average to poor fuel
economy. The presidential limousine, an armored Cadillac made
by General Motors, gets about 14 miles per gallon in city

For the second straight week, Mineta came under pressure
from lawmakers who want the administration to act aggressively
to boost mileage requirements for compacts, sedans and other
passenger cars to reduce dependence on oil imports.

Each manufacturers' fleet of passenger cars must average
27.5 mpg. The standard, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy
(CAFE), has not been changed since 1990.

Unlike last week in the House of Representatives, Mineta
received little support among senators for his proposal to
study new fuel standards with an eye toward raising them by the
end of the decade.

Mineta also wants to change the way those standards are
calculated, which critics say could help struggling U.S.
manufacturers build the larger pickups and SUVs they currently

The Bush administration raised standards in March for the
light-truck class, which includes SUVs, vans and pickups, by
1.9 miles per gallon to 24.1 mpg by 2011. The Transportation
Department estimates the increase will save more than 10
billion gallons of fuel.

But some Democrats and Republicans are suspicious of
Mineta's approach, calling the light-truck increase weak and
demanding bolder action for passenger cars.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, proposed
legislation on Tuesday with California Democrat Dianne
Feinstein to require all autos get 10 mpg more over the next 10
years to save 2.5 million barrels of oil per day.

"It's time to address this aggressively," Snowe said.

Other Senate and House proposals also mandate fuel economy
increases, goals that Mineta says should be determined only by
regulators with the scientific expertise, not lawmakers.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee bill supported by
Mineta would give his agency the authority to raise fuel
standards and change how they are calculated, which is what
regulators did for the light-truck class.

Mineta gave no indication of an appropriate increase in
fuel standards for cars, but said any change would have to
consider safety.