Senate Passes Fuel Efficiency Reform Amendment

Bipartisan deal gives auto industry more flexibility to meet fuel economy targets.

The U.S. Senate passed a compromise vehicle fuel efficiency reform amendment by a unanimous voice vote Thursday, after weeks of heavy lobbying from auto makers and environmental lobbyists.

The legislation raises the fleetwide average fuel economy standards for all cars, trucks and SUVs by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years - from 25 to 35 miles per gallon by model year 2020.

"This bipartisan deal achieves the largest fuel economy increase in more than two decades, and it keeps the goals of the Ten-in-Ten legislation intact," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who introduced the original provision written into the language of a major energy bill currently under debate in the Senate.

The Senate has yet to pass the energy bill. The provision, Feinstein said, "ensures that the U.S. auto industry has the flexibility needed to meet the new fuel economy targets for each class of vehicles.

"This bill will achieve serious savings for oil, make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and put money back in the pockets of American consumers," she said.

Feinstein and a raft of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle had been negotiating over less stringent measures proposed by Michigan Democratic senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

Auto makers say they fear that the standards set by Feinstein's Ten-in-Ten bill - which calls for combined increases in fuel economy standards for cars and trucks by 10 miles a gallon over 10 years starting in 2010 - aren't only unachievable, but also could sound the death knell for a sector already suffering financial woes.

Current standards are 22 miles a gallon for light trucks and 27.5 miles for passenger vehicles. "We attain the goal without having some battles every year ... it is mandatory, but it allows a lot of discretion about how you get there," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, one of the co-sponsors of the compromise amendment.

One of the major changes from Feinstein's original measure removes a required 4%-a-year increase from 2021-2030, instead directing the administration to set the "maximum feasible" level.

It removes a mandate that 50% of cars be flex fuel in 2012, which would have increased to 80% in 2015. It instead replaces it with language instructing the Department of Transportation to develop a plan to insure that 50% of vehicles sold in the U.S. are alternative fuel vehicles by 2015.

It also now requires the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to use a system that sets fuel efficiency standards based on vehicles' attributes, such as size and weight.

Feinstein said the reformed standards would save between 2 million to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2020 and achieve up to 18% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from anticipated levels.

Source: Associated Press

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