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Vote Nears on Measure That Could Help AmericaCuts Its Dangerous Dependence on Oil, Clean Up the Environment and Enhance National Security

June 21, 2005

Vote Nears on Measure That Could Help AmericaCuts Its Dangerous Dependence on Oil, Clean Up the Environment and Enhance National Security

Amendments to be Offered this Week Would Extend “Dual Fuel” Loophole, Weaken Existing Fuel Economy Law and Increase Dependence on Foreign Oil

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Senate draws closer to a vote this week on several Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) amendments to the energy bill, public interest and environmental groups are calling for passage of key amendments that could save up to 4 million barrels of oil per day by the year 2020. Making vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas is the biggest single step Congress can take to save money at the gas pump, curb global warming and cut America’s dangerous dependence on oil, according to a letter sent to U.S. senators today from Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. PIRG, Center for Auto Safety, ACEEE, Alliance to Save Energy, Friends of the Earth, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and 20/20 Vision.

The coalition letter urges passage of the Durbin and Feinstein-Snowe amendments. The Durbin amendment would raise fuel economy standards by 2017 to 40 miles per gallon (mpg) for all passenger vehicles, while pickup trucks and other non-passenger vehicles would be increased to 27.5 mpg. The Feinstein-Snowe amendment would close the “SUV loophole” by requiring light trucks to meet the same fuel economy standards as passenger cars by 2011. In addition, the Feinstein-Snowe amendment expands fuel economy standards to include vehicles up to 10,000 pounds GVWR (gross vehicle weight ratio) and increases the fuel economy of the federal government fleet.

The groups oppose the Levin-Bond amendment, saying it weakens existing law and increases America’s oil dependence while extending a bogus dual fuel loophole that allows automakers to “earn” credits for vehicles that never use alternative fuels. The dual fuel credits, intended to increase use of alternative fuels such as ethanol, have actually increased petroleum consumption by hundreds of millions of gallons over the past decade and increased greenhouse emissions by millions of metric tons. A separate letter to lawmakers from Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook pointed out the irresponsibility of extending the program, which Public Citizen and the NRDC have separately challenged in court.

Also in a letter from Claybrook, Public Citizen urges senators to reject the outdated, false and hypocritical argument of the auto industry that stricter fuel economy standards lead to vehicle weight reductions in the fleet, reducing safety and causing more highway deaths.

Public Citizen’s analysis of government data has shown the current fleet of U.S. vehicles is the heaviest in history due to the explosion in the number of SUVs and pickup trucks. The absence of a meaningful fuel economy increase for the past 20 years has help to create a bloated, heavy and dangerously overpowered SUV and pickup vehicle fleet with the lowest overall fuel economy in two decades. As a result, there is a dangerous mismatch of vehicles on the highway, which undermines safety. In its annual Trends Report, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that automakers have opted to massively bulk up vehicles and ramp up engines rather than improve fuel economy. Heavier light trucks, with their rigid frames and elevated heights, are exceedingly destructive in crashes with passenger cars. Weight reductions in these vehicles would improve safety.

By supporting the Durbin and Feinstein-Snowe amendments, senators will be supporting fuel economy technologies that could dramatically improve vehicle fuel economy regardless of vehicle weight, but which currently languish on backroom shelves.

As gasoline prices continue to hover at record highs, more efficient engines, smarter transmissions and better materials would safely increase fuel economy and reduce global warming while saving consumers money on gas, the other environmental and public interest groups added.

To view the letters, click here.