WASHINGTON -- For the first time in 32 years, Congress has passed a bill that would sharply raise corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards.
The Associated Press reported that President Bush will sign the bill at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington on Wednesday. The measure raises vehicle standards to an industrywide average of 35 mpg by 2020 -- about 40 percent higher than today.
The House of Representatives, as expected, finished congressional action on the measure today. House members voted 314-100 to accept changes to the bill that the Senate made last week. Senators removed parts of the bill that the White House said would bring a veto.
Aside from boosting fuel economy standards, the bill mandates a dramatic increase in production of alternative fuels.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill represented a choice between yesterday and tomorrow.
The first fuel economy standards under the measure are to be imposed for the 2011 model year, setting automakers on a path to reach the 35 mpg standard a decade later.
But Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, today predicted that Congress will have to grant a time extension before 2020 because the 35 mpg standard will prove too difficult to achieve. He said only eight of 350 models now available would meet the 2020 standard. Barton is the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Automakers and their allies reluctantly ended up supporting the bill. Some industry leaders said they won concessions that will help them comply with the new fuel economy standards, but still face a challenge.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a staunch industry ally, supported the bill but said it is not the final word on energy security or climate change. Dingell is chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is preparing a wider-ranging measure that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of economic sectors.
Chrysler LLC Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli said the automaker supports the bill. "We continue to devote significant resources to develop quality, fuel efficient products that our customers expect. This year alone, we offer six vehicles that get 28 miles per gallon or better, and more are on the way."
Said Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association: AIADA applauds the House and Senate for recognizing the need for an aggressive national CAFE program. Our dealer members are extremely proud that the international nameplate franchises they represent are committed to enhancing fuel economy and have continued to be consistent leaders in this effort.