Desire for fuel efficiency drives Feinstein bill
For the sake of air quality and energy conservation, lawmakers and environmentalists are hoping for the day when sport utility vehicles are as fuel efficient as they are popular.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill Tuesday to equalize the fuel efficiency standards in SUVs and light-duty trucks to a level comparable with passenger cars.
The standard for sedans is 27.5 miles per gallon. The measure intends to wean the SUV standard to that level from its current 20.7mpg by 2007.
If the measure passes, SUVs must average 22.5 in two years. By 2005, the required level is 25mpg.
The bill plans to save the nation 1 million barrels of oil a day, thus reducing foreign oil dependency and imports by 10 percent. It also intends to prevent 200 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.
“The bottom line is, in the future, this is going to be the way,” Feinstein’s spokesman Jim Hock said.
The Sierra Club is pleased. The national environmental organization has been lobbying Congress to enforce a better fuel efficiency standard.
The club’s national conservation director wanted 45mpg as the standard, but its regional director for Lake Tahoe said he’d settle for this baby step that’s been three years in the making.
“Senator Feinstein’s bill will save much more oil than what (Vice President Dick) Cheney is supporting,” Carl Zichella said, taking aim at the Bush Administration’s policies. “Their energy policy is a bridge to the past.”
Cheney released a national energy strategy to The Associated Press Monday that relies on oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power development – but not conservation.
The administration wants to build more power plants to increase America’s power capacity. More controversial, it also seeks to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a proposal that doesn’t sit well with environmentalists like Zichella.
Cheney thinks alternative fuels are too far off in the future to address immediate energy concerns pressing the nation, especially in California where SUVs rule the road.
In 2000, the explosive growth of SUVs brought the average fuel economy of the nation’s new vehicles to its lowest point in 20 years. Some SUVs receive 6.8 fewer miles per gallon than passenger cars.
But would the new standards get support from Detroit?
Automakers have said they will not actively oppose the raising of fuel efficiency standards, stopping short of supporting it. Manufacturers have even recently pledged a voluntary increase in SUV fuel efficiency by 25 percent.
And if they build them, consumers may come.
Shehadi Motors General Manager Mark Shehadi is convinced the better gasoline mileage would be an added plus in SUV sales, of which his South Lake Tahoe dealership manages a lot.
“I think more people will buy because of the fuel economy, but that’s not the reason why people buy SUVs,” Shehadi said.
The dealer manager acknowledged that many motorists buy SUVs for space, road handling and safety factors. However, Lake Tahoe residents may be particularly influenced by the fuel efficiency from an emissions standpoint.
“Especially in this market, we are aware of the environment,” he said.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.