July 25, 2006

House may ok higher gas mileage in new bill

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives
could accept a Senate proposal to boost vehicle mileage
requirements as part of legislation to open more offshore areas
to oil and natural gas drilling, a key House lawmaker said on

The Senate may vote this week on legislation to open a
small area off the coast of Florida to drilling while
preventing energy exploration within 125 miles of the state's
coastline through 2022.

Some senators may try to add an amendment to the bill to
gradually increase the mileage requirement for U.S. vehicles by
about one mile per gallon a year. It has been over 20 years
since Congress has raised fuel efficiency standards, although
the White House recently ordered automakers to boost mileage
slightly in some vehicles.

Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, who chairs the House
Resources Committee, said such higher fuel standards could be
accepted in the House if that allowed Congress to pass
compromise legislation that included language from a related
House drilling bill to also open areas on the West and East
Coasts to energy energy exploration.

"I believe that kind of an amendment does not kill the
(drilling) bill in the House," Pombo told reporters, referring
to the proposal to increase vehicle fuel efficiency.

Pombo is chief sponsor of the House bill that would
automatically allow drilling beyond 100 miles from the shore
and as close as 50 miles from the coastline unless a state

Drilling is now allowed off the coasts of Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and parts of Alaska.

Pombo said he is willing to compromise with the Senate to
work out an acceptable drilling bill, but the final compromise
legislation would have to open more areas to drilling beyond
the eastern Gulf of Mexico called for in the Senate

He said accepting a Senate proposal to increase vehicle
fuel standards could pick up the Senate and House votes
necessary to pass a broader drilling bill similar to what the
House wants.

"Obviously there are a number of members in the House who
have never voted for (vehicle fuel efficiency) increases ...
but tied to a bill like this may find it palatable," said
Pombo, who refused to say whether he personally would support a
boost in fuel standards.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist said on
Tuesday he has enough votes to prevent a filibuster of the
Senate's drilling bill.

He said "people are feeling the squeeze" of high energy
prices and the Senate's drilling bill would address that
problem, although he acknowledged it would not lower energy
prices in the short-term.

It would take about five years for the government to lease
new drilling areas and for production to begin.