want to delay stricter mileage standards
WASHINGTON: The Senate was
expected to vote Tuesday to delay stricter mileage standards for gasoline-guzzling sport utility vehicles until a federal
agency reviews their impact on U.S. auto manufacturing jobs and vehicle safety.
The proposed language was an amendment
to a broad energy bill that the Senate is trying to finish this week before adjourning for its month-long August recess. The
energy legislation aims to offer billions in tax incentives to promote more domestic oil and gas drilling, restructure the
U.S. electricity market and promote more coal and renewable energy.
Under a 1975 law, U.S. automobiles must
average 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg). However, SUVs, mini-vans and light trucks which account for more than half
of all new vehicles sold average just 20.7 mpg.
Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat,
offered an amendment to the bill that would require automakers to produce automobiles that average 40 mpg and SUVs that average
27.5 mpg by 2015.
"Detroit is falling further and further
behind when it comes to new and responsible technology to deal with fuel efficiency and the environment," Durbin said. "This
energy bill before us doesn't challenge the automobile industry to do better."
However, Durbin acknowledged that his proposal
was likely to be defeated in a vote scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Instead, the Senate was expected to approve
a rival plan by lawmakers from auto manufacturing states that would give the federal government years to set new mileage standards
after analyzing the impact on auto jobs and vehicle safety.
Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri and
Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan said their plan would have the Transportation Department and not Congress decide
if the fuel economy of cars, minivans and SUVs should be increased, and by how much.
Under their proposal, the department's
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would first consider the impact of new mileage requirements on the safety of
vehicles that may have to built smaller, the competitiveness of U.S. automakers and the loss of autoworker jobs.
"Setting fuel economy standards is complicated,"
Bond said. "They should not be based on politically-set numbers."
In addition, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California
Democrat, and Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, said they will offer an amendment to require SUVs and light trucks to
get the same fuel economy as passenger cars. They would close the SUV loophole by 2011, saving an estimated 1 million barrels
of oil each day.
During the energy bill debate, Senate Republicans
accused of Democrats of deliberately delaying the legislation.
Majority Leader Bill Frist has vowed to
keep the Senate in session until the energy bill is completed even if it means delaying the chamber's August vacation.
"I'm beginning to think there is some delaying" by Democrats, Frist said.
Democrat Harry Reid, the assistant minority
leader, said the bill had many complex and important issues left to debate. "The question is, is this bill as good as it should
be? I think the answer is a glaring 'no' at this stage," he said.
If the Senate passes a broad energy bill,
it must still be reconciled with energy legislation passed earlier this year by the House of Representatives before a final
package could be signed into law by President Bush.