WASHINGTON - Congress has more work to do to complete a comprehensive national energy bill, but this much is clear: It will not include a significant hike in car and truck fuel economy standards.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday, July 29, against a proposal to raise standards by 45 percent for cars by the 2015 model year - and by an even greater amount for some trucks.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., got 32 yes votes and 65 no votes for his proposal.
The margin was similar to a vote taken in March 2002 on boosting the fuel economy of cars and trucks by nearly 50 percent in a decade.
In short, environmental groups and other vocal proponents are making no headway trying to use higher fuel economy standards to reduce U.S. reliance on imported oil and to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.
The latest proposal, if adopted, would have required "passenger vehicles" to average 40 mpg by 2015. Significantly, it would have included SUVs, minivans and some pickups in the passenger-vehicle category. Other trucks, mainly pickups used for work, would have to average 27.5 mpg by 2015. The proposal also would have expanded the reach of the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, program to include bigger light trucks that have been exempt and to raise fines for companies that fail to meet CAFE standards.
Existing standards are 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks. But the Bush administration has adopted regulations to raise the truck standard in three steps to 22.2 mpg by the 2007 model year.
Automakers have argued that the CAFE program is fundamentally flawed because it does not take into account consumer preferences. The companies - along with dealers, suppliers, the UAW and other allies - have mounted vigorous lobbying campaigns against significantly higher fuel economy standards.
After rejecting the Durbin proposal, senators voted 66 to 30 in favor of an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin,
D-Mich., and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. It directs NHTSA to raise CAFE for vehicles to the highest possible levels, while taking into account a range of factors, including employment in the automobile industry and the relative competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers and import-brand rivals.