All sides find solace, ammo in long-awaited fuel report

WASHINGTON - Yes, both lawmakers quoted above were referring to the same report from the same expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences when they debated corporate average fuel economy standards in the House of Representatives last week.

The report was commissioned by Congress nearly a year ago, and it was awaited eagerly by policy makers, environmental groups and automakers. But when it was made public last week, almost everyone looked for excerpts to merely bolster strongly held positions.

Even many media reports erroneously said the panel urged higher standards for light trucks.

What the report does say is that improved fuel economy is possible with existing and emerging technologies - but there are costs.

Here are the panel's seven specific recommendations:

1. Elected officials must decide on the trade-offs between fuel economy, safety, vehicle cost and consumer preferences.

2. Automakers should be allowed to buy and sell fuel economy credits. Such a system would provide an incentive to manufacturers to improve fuel economy and put a real market-based price tag on changes.

3. Fuel economy targets should be based on vehicle attributes, particularly weight.

4. The requirement for separate foreign and domestic fleet averages should be eliminated.

5. The system of giving CAFE credits to automakers that produce vehicles that run on gasoline and an alternative fuel, even though they may never use the alternative fuel, should be abolished.

6. Government should continue to fund joint research with the auto industry on breakthrough technologies for future vehicles.

7. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should clarify the relationship between fuel economy and safety.

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