- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A Democratic attempt to insert higher fuel-efficiency standards on sport utility vehicles into the Senate energy bill will have to wait until the legislation is considered on the floor.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, failed yesterday to gain support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for an amendment that would force automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of SUVs by 30 percent in eight years.
"I will try again on the Senate floor," Mrs. Feinstein said. "And I will keep trying."
Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, said new standards imposed so quickly would hurt auto manufacturers.
"If you took the Explorer out of the Ford Motor Company, they would not make a profit," Mr. Bunning said.
"When the technology and the ability for you to drive what you choose match, I want Senator Feinstein to know that I will be with her. But the technology is not there right now. If you want to do damage to the economy, your amendment would do it," he said.
Mrs. Feinstein's amendment would have mandated that by 2011, SUVs get 27.5 miles per gallon, the current average fuel efficiency of sedans. Today's SUVs are required to average 20.7 miles per gallon.
She said realizing her proposal would save a million barrels of oil a day 10 percent of current U.S. oil imports and would reduce "global warming and greenhouse gases" and save consumers between $420 and $639 annually at the gas pump.
"In terms of global warming and greenhouse gases, this is the largest bang for the buck we can achieve," Mrs. Feinstein said about strengthening the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards, for SUVs and light pickup trucks.
The proposal has very little chance. Three fellow Democrats on the committee voted against the Feinstein amendment Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana joined the unanimously opposing Republicans.
Opponents say the government should not be forcing the auto industry to rush technology or produce lighter, less-safe SUVs that customers will likely avoid.
"I love when senators want to play engineers," said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican. "You might get savings from gasoline, but you might have a vehicle that you can't sell. You may also increase the number of fatalities. To get these the same weight as automobiles, you might make them unsafe."
In lieu of the Feinstein amendment, the Senate is expected to approve the language of an amendment added to last year's unpassed energy bill by Sens. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican.
The amendment, which passed 62-38 with the support of 16 Democrats, would have ordered the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study the need for higher fuel economy standards, but did not specify a miles-per-gallon increase or a timeline for the higher standards to take place.
It would also order the NHTSA to take into account the new standards' affect on auto safety and any potential loss of jobs.
Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, is determined to finish marking up his bill by tomorrow. To help meet that deadline, he also put off consideration of an amendment by Sen. James M. Talent, Missouri Republican, to more than double production of corn-based ethanol for fuel. The domestic ethanol industry produced 2.13 billion gallons in 2002, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Mr. Talent's amendment, which enjoys strong bipartisan support in big agriculture states, is expected to pass when it is brought to the Senate floor. The committee will tackle the complicated issue of electricity regulation today.

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