WASHINGTON - The Senate approved a measure Tuesday to require the president to find ways to reduce U.S. oil consumption by one million barrels per day by 2013.
Americans consume nearly 20 million barrels per day. About 8 million barrels are for transportation. Total daily usage has been projected to rise to 24 million by 2013 if no significant changes are made.
Automakers say they need time to assess the impact of the provision but generally have opposed caps on oil consumption as backdoor attempts to raise federal fuel economy standards.
Sponsors argued that the Bush administration and future administrations could chose from a wide variety of actions to curtail oil consumption, such as weatherizing more homes and switching to alternative fuels.
"This is an ingenious idea," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, when he announced his support for the amendment. It came originally from a group of Senate moderates.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., its principal sponsor, says the goal is a modest one, but it is clear-cut and attainable.
The vote was a surprisingly lopsided 99-1 in favor, raising the possibility that senators who otherwise would have opposed the amendment believe it will be stripped out later, perhaps in a conference committee with the House. In other words, they got to cast a politically popular vote for conservation - perhaps without consequences.
But the vote stands as the strongest in the energy debate for reducing consumption.
Critics of the Senate energy bill, based largely on the Bush administration energy policy, say it overemphasized increased production and did too little to save energy.
In other action, senators voted 67-32 for an amendment to put clearer targets and timetables into the federal efforts to promote development of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.
If the amendment becomes law, it would set goals of 100,000 fuel cell cars and trucks on American roads by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020.
Senators still have more amendments to consider.
Once they finish, their final bill would have to be reconciled with an energy bill passed in April by the House of Representatives before the legislation would go to the president for his signature or a veto.