By a wide margin, the U.S. Congress approved the
first increase in automobile fuel economy in 32 years on Tuesday,
and President George W. Bush has signalled he will accept the
mandates on the auto industry.
The energy bill, boosting mileage by 40 per cent to 35 miles per
gallon _ about 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres _ passed the House of
Representatives 314-100 and now goes to the White House following
the Senate's approval last week.
In a dramatic shift to spur increased demand for non-fossil
fuels, the bill also requires a six-fold increase in ethanol use to
36 billion gallons (136 billion litres) a year by 2022, a boon to
farmers. And it requires new energy efficiency standards for an
array of appliances, lighting and commercial and government
``This is a choice between yesterday and tomorrow'' on energy
policy, declared Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of
California, who was closely involved in crafting the legislation.
``It's groundbreaking in what it will do.''
While some Republican legislators criticized the bill for failing
to address the need for more domestic oil and natural gas
production, 95 Republican members joined Democrats in support of the
``This legislation is a historic turning point in energy
policy,'' said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, because it
will cut demand for foreign oil and promote non-fossil fuels that
will cut greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
It increases energy efficiency ``from light bulbs to light
trucks,'' said Democratic Representative John Dingell of Michigan, a
longtime protector of the auto industry who was key to a compromise
on vehicle efficiency increases.
Many Republicans denounced the Democratic-crafted bill for
failing to push for more domestic production of fossil fuels and for
mandates some Republican legislators warned will not be possible.
Democrats disagreed. The legislation takes measured and concrete
steps that are achievable, said Dingell.
The Senate passed the bill last week after discarding billions of
dollars in higher taxes on oil companies and a solar and wind power
mandate that opponents said would raise electric rates in the U.S.
Southeast. President George W. Bush and Senate Republicans opposed
The centrepiece of the bill remained the requirement for
automakers to increase their industrywide vehicle fuel efficiency by
40 per cent to an industry average of 35 mpg by 2020, compared with
today's 25 mpg (9.4 litres per 100 kilometres) when including
passenger cars as well as SUVs and small trucks.
Congress has not changed the auto mileage requirement since it
was first enacted in 1975.
Democrats said the fuel economy requirements eventually _ when
the fleet of gas-miser vehicles are widely on the road _ will save
motorists US$700 to $1,000 a year in fuel costs. They maintain the
overall bill, including more ethanol use and various efficiency
requirements and incentives, will reduce U.S. oil demand by four
million barrels a day by 2030, more than twice the daily imports
from the volatile Persian Gulf.
The automakers have repeatedly fought an increase in the federal
fuel standard, known as CAFE, maintaining it would limit the range
of vehicles consumers will have available in showrooms and threaten
auto industry jobs.
Bush has also argued against an arbitrary, numerical increase in
the fuel efficiency requirement, preferring instead legislation to
streamline the federal requirements and market incentives to get rid
of gas guzzling vehicles.
But the automakers have accepted the political shift toward a
tougher requirement. After the Senate approved the legislation last
week, the White House immediately said Bush would sign it once it
reaches his desk.
The bill requires a massive increase in the production of
ethanol for motor fuels, outlining a rampup of ethanol use from the
roughly 22.7 billion litres this year to 136 billion litres by 2022.
After 2015, the emphasis would be on expanded use of cellulosic
ethanol, made from such feedstock as switchgrass and wood chips,
with two thirds of the ethanol from such non-corn sources.
However, commercially viable production of cellulosic ethanol has
yet to be proven and some Republicans have argued that the new
requirements could be impossible to meet and may raise corn prices
and food supplies.
The bill requires improved efficiency standards for lighting,
commercial and government buildings, and appliances such as
refrigerators, dishwashers and freezers. It also tells the Energy
Department to issue efficiency standards more quickly.
Democrats failed to get through a broad tax package that they had
designed to pay for incentives aimed at spurring the development of
wind, solar and alternative fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, as
well as energy efficiency and conservation programs.