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Bush administration pushes fuel economy reforms

Bush administration pushes fuel economy reforms

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said that the Bush administration would oppose mandatory increases to automotive fuel efficiency standards that lack reforms to the system of calculating them.
The opposition to a specific numerical increase in fuel economy standards holds the potential of setting up a conflict with Congress, where many lawmakers are calling for tougher requirements for a passenger car system that has remained constant for the past two decades.
Peters said Wednesday the White House's plan to implement stricter gas mileage requirements for cars would protect jobs and safety while ensuring that consumers have their choice of vehicles.
"Setting the standard based on reform is actually much better for the U.S. automobile industry because it gives them flexibility in the composition and the size of their fleet," Peters said, adding that automakers also would be able to trade credits to comply.
"We actually think this is the most friendly (approach) to the domestic automobile industry," she said.
The Bush administration's plan is to reduce gasoline consumption during the next decade through more renewable energy sources and increasing fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
It will need to balance a number of competing interests: automakers and their workers, the oil industry and energy companies, environmental groups, and foreign policy experts who consider energy to be vital to the nation's security.
Automakers cautiously said they would work with the administration and Congress on the plan. General Motors Corp. said it would try to ensure that "any fuel economy increases are technically achievable and do not compromise safety, performance, or limit consumer choice."
President George W. Bush's proposal, outlined in his State of the Union address, would reform the fuel economy program for passenger cars _ called Corporate Average Fuel Economy _ to take into account the vehicle's attributes, such as its size, instead of the current calculation based on the manufacturers' fleet.
The proposal would raise fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks by an estimated 4 percent annually. The increases would begin for passenger cars with the 2010 model year and for trucks with the 2012 model year.
"Congress, I'm hopeful, recognizes the great potential in new technologies, that we're able to have a new mandatory fuel standard and new CAFE standards for our automobiles, all aiming to make us less dependent on oil," Bush said during an event in Wilmington, Del.
Revisions to the program for new car fleets would be a challenge because Congress has denied the administration the authority in the past _ including a plan last year that died in the House _ and many members of Congress representing auto workers remain skeptical.
The government has not indicated how much it would cost automakers, and some worry that it would hurt domestic companies at a challenging time. GM and Ford Motor Co. have outlined plans to reduce its work force, while DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is expected to announce restructuring plans next month.
Republican Rep. Candice Miller said she was worried the call for fuel economy increases "would have a negative impact on our domestic auto industry." The United Auto Workers union, meanwhile, is studying the plan but has opposed similar changes in the past.
But others in Congress want drastically higher standards, along with a boost to the number of alternative vehicles and renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, for example, has urged automakers to reach 40 miles per gallon by 2017, a considerable increase over the current standard of 27.5 mpg.
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, in a letter to Bush on Wednesday, said he would reintroduce legislation next week that would boost fuel economy standards by 4 percent annually unless the government suggested otherwise and offer the flexibility of different standards for different vehicles.
"The onus should no longer be on the public to prove why higher fuel economy standards are necessary _ it should be on our government to prove why they are not," Obama wrote.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group, has estimated the plan would lead to an average fuel economy of 34 mpg in vehicles by 2017.
But many environmental and consumer groups say it would not require the industry to increase the fuel economy of their new cars and that the system could offer flexibility for automakers instead of strict standards.
"The challenge is to make sure that on the roads you actually get the 4 percent increase and you don't allow the 4 percent increase to be deflated or degraded by loopholes," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
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Updated : 2020-12-02 02:46 GMT+08:00