WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of more than two dozen lawmakers proposed legislation Thursday to force the EPA to change the test procedures used to determine fuel economy ratings.
The lawmakers say that in real-world driving no one gets the mileage posted on car and truck window stickers and published in government fuel economy guides.
So, they contend, the ratings are misleading to consumers.
If enacted, the bill would require the EPA to make the test for fuel economy ratings more like real-world driving. That would mean more high-speed driving, more aggressive accelerating and stopping, more short trips, driving with air-conditioning on and testing at a variety of temperatures, according to the bill.
The EPA last year did solicit public comments on a petition from an environmental group, Bluewater Network, asking that the 30-year-old test procedures be updated. And the agency indicated it plans some changes.
The point of the legislation is to make sure something gets done, said Brian Schubert, spokesman for the prime sponsor, Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn.
The legislation is backed by a coalition of environmental groups and the American Automobile Association, with 47 million members.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing the Big 3 and six import-brand companies, does not support spending taxpayer money to change a program that does not need reform, said alliance spokesman Eron Shosteck.
Window labels are for vehicle-to-vehicle comparisons only and clearly state that actual mileage will vary, he added.
The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, with 14 import-brand members, told the EPA last year it did not oppose a review of the test procedures but cautioned against a quick-fix based on inadequate research.
John Cabaniss, AIAM's director of environment and energy, said Thursday that the EPA will have a tough job setting any number or range of numbers that accurately represents the wide variety of driving habits and conditions.
Proponents of the legislation say it would not affect the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE, whose standards automakers must meet or pay fines.
But the same EPA test procedures -- generally conducted by the car companies themselves and merely checked by regulators -- determine the mileage figures for CAFE. The program is administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, not EPA.
EPA adjusts those initial figures downward for the consumer information, used both on window stickers and in fuel economy guides.
Critics of the old test procedures say even the adjusted numbers are still far higher than what drivers normally achieve.
Some environmentalists believe more realistic ratings on vehicle windows would further pressure automakers to improve real fuel economy.
Ironically, however, criticism of mileage ratings has only escalated since gasoline-electric hybrids have been on the market, promising in some cases more than 60 miles per gallon.
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