Thursday, June 21, 2007

Senate Votes To Raise Auto Mileage Standards to 35 MPG

The Senate on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation that will increase auto fuel economy standards by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years, the first significant hike demanded of automakers in nearly 20 years. The new requirements will cut carbon emissions dramatically and will help turn around America’s rapid production of carbon emissions. The oil savings will ultimately total 1.2 million barrels per day by 2020.

The legislation was offered by Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) and supported by a bipartisan group that included Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John Kerry (D-MA).

“We’ve been fighting to reach this day for over twenty years. Because of an historic bipartisan compromise, for the first time in a generation we’ve overcome powerful opposition to make our cares more fuel efficient," said Kerry after the vote. "This wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but because of this victory we are providing America a dramatic change in the way we drive and the way we do business. This is a great step toward addressing record gas prices, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and breaking the stranglehold of foreign oil."

The measure was approved by a voice vote, which means that passage is not really in doubt -- as often occurs when a compromise has been reached -- and no record is kept of the vote tally.

The compromise killed a more-stringent portion of the pending Energy bill that would have mandated the 35-miles-per-gallon standard and taken it further by requiring four percent annual efficiency improvements after that. The American auto industry fought hard against that one, saying that such a move would have required them to produce 52-mpg cars by 2030.

"I am sorry the automobile industry, which has resisted efforts to improve fuel efficiency over the last 20 years, is still resisting these efforts," said Dick Durbin (D-IL) while debating the issue on Wednesday. "The same auto industry that fought against safety belts, airbags, mandatory recalls, side-impact protection and roof strength is fighting against better fuel economy."

And Durbin raised the prospect of the true patriotism that automakers could show by voluntarily making such fuel-economy strides, versus being forced by the federal government due to the national security implications of U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"Any increase in fuel economy will decrease our dependence on foreign oil. How significant is the issue of foreign oil? I don't need to remind anyone that we are in the midst of a war in the Middle East. We have lost 3,521 of our best and bravest soldiers," said the Illinois Senator. "It is no coincidence that these battlegrounds time and again are battlegrounds in the Middle East, which is the source of our energy. We have to reach a point where we are less dependent on that region of the world to fuel the American economy."

America automakers are currently required to meet an average of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks -- standards that have not changed substantially since 1989 -- and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that the compromise works for him as long as some new mileage requirements are in the broader Energy bill.

"I can live with either one of them," Reid said, referring to the stronger provision already in the bill and the compromise that will replace it.

“Let there be no doubt, this is a victory for the American public," said Senator Feinstein of the compromise. "The bill will achieve serious savings for oil, make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and put money back in the pockets of American consumers.”