(CNSNews.com) - A bipartisan group of senators Wednesday introduced legislation calling for substantial increases in fuel economy standards for American cars and trucks, a proposal strongly opposed by the automobile industry and pro-SUV interest groups.
The lawmakers to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for all cars, SUVs, and light trucks by ten miles a gallon - from the current 25 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon between 2011 and 2020. Subsequent increases of four percent would then be added every year after that until 2030.
The legislation, called the Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act, is part of the comprehensive energy package being debated in the Senate this week.
"We understand there's no silver bullet with respect to global warming," Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said at a news conference. "But we also know that emission reduction is a right thing to do."
Feinstein was joined by several Democratic senators, including Richard Durbin (Ill.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) Republican senators Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), and Ted Stevens (Alaska) also signed onto the bill.
The senators criticized previous sessions of Congress for failing to set stricter standards for automobile emissions. "It's been an entire generation since we've made substantial changes in the CAFE standards," Snowe said. "In that time we've gone from land-lines to cell phones, from record players to CDs to iPods.
"We can do it - and this bill is the right measure to finally set those wheels in motion," Snowe added.
The bill's supporters claim it would save 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 18 percent, and save consumers $70 billion in fuel costs, based on current gas prices.
"What do we need to convince us?" asked Durbin. "Rising gas prices? Dependence on foreign oil that forces us to work with dictators who don't share our values? And of course there are all the environmental problems."
The senators also criticized the automobile industry for not taking the lead on CAFE standards themselves.
"I want the automotive industry to do well, but they always resist things like this," Dorgan said. "They resisted seat belts. They resisted air bags. Now they're resisting this too."
Nevertheless, the senators claimed that their bill would also help the automotive industry by investing $50 million a year in hybrid battery technology and providing tax credits on hybrid vehicles to make them more economical.
"It's not enough to just say to the auto industry: eat your spinach. We must have a policy of tough love with them," said Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.). "That is, be tough with them, but love them as well."
Critics of the bill charged that raising fuel economy standards would not solve anything and would lead to increased costs for automobile consumers.
"Why would you need a law to force fuel efficiency on the market when the market would love it?" Ron DeFore, communications director at SUV Owners of America, told Cybercast News Service.
"If there is any manufacturer in the world that could build an effective 35 mpg light truck at an affordable price, they would have done it already and reaped billions of dollars in profit," he said.
"That's why when people talk about tough love for the automobile industry, they are being dishonest," he added.
DeFore also cited a 1999 USA Today study, which found that efforts aimed at greater fuel efficiency had led to smaller cars and an increase in fatalities from automobile accidents. The study estimated that 46,000 people had died as a result.
When asked about the USA Today study, Feinstein dismissed the idea that the fatalities were connected to fuel economy standards. She also pointed to seatbelt laws, airbags, and enforcement of drunken driving laws as safety measures that had saved lives.
CAFE standards were first imposed in 1975 at 18 mpg and rose slowly over the next decade. They are set at about 25 mpg today.
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