May 8, 2007 -- We are dismayed that the fuel economy bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee today doesn't require any real or significant improvement in fuel economy. Currently, the truck fleet achieves an average fuel economy of 21.8 mpg, and the car fleet reaches 30 mpg. Today's bill sets a target of merely 35 mpg thirteen years hence, which is 5 mpg less than the Senate was poised to require within ten years ago, in 1990. It is also much lower than what manufacturers could easily achieve with the wide variety of technologies available to them.
In fact, the bill gives the government excuses not to reach the "target" - if the target or a mandatory increase is not "cost-effective" - so that it's not even a mandatory target at all. It also allows the government to set standards based on a vehicle's "footprint," which means that larger vehicles can comply with lower fuel economy levels than smaller ones. This is the opposite of what is needed to address global warming. This is definitely not maximum feasible fuel economy.
On the positive side, the bill will be sent to the floor with a provision requiring that SUVs and light trucks be compatible with cars in a collision. It also will give consumers information to help them buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles. Finally, the bill gives $25 million (up from a paltry $1.7 million in 2007) to do what I was able to do when I set the first fuel economy standards in 1977: conduct thorough fact-finding investigations to ensure that the standards are set based on the best available evidence about manufacturer capacity and technological developments to achieve the maximum feasible fuel economy.
Fuel economy is an essential component of any serious effort to achieve energy independence and address the transportation sector's role in global warming. Unfortunately, this bill is a political compromise that now compromises the very purpose of the fuel economy program.
* Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1977-1981.