Bush Seeks Cutback in Gas Consumption

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 23, 2007; 11:03 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Tuesday asked Congress to help the nation reduce its gasoline consumption during the next ten years, outlining an energy plan that would seek increased fuel economy standards from the auto industry.

"It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply _ and the way forward is through technology," Bush said in his State of the Union address before Congress.

Bush's proposal would raise the fuel efficiency of passenger cars and light trucks by an estimated 4 percent annually, a move which brought questions within the industry and among its supporters in Congress.

Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who leads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the plan, which would seek a 20 percent reduction in gas consumption by 2017, would require a thorough examination, and following what the "doctors of medicine say: 'First do no harm.'"

"I'm going into this thing with an open mind. I'm going to listen to everything they say, but this thing drips questions," Dingell said.

Ziad Ojakli, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president for government affairs, said the automaker would support "equitable" reforms to the fuel economy system for passenger cars established by the government.

Josephine Cooper, Toyota Motor North America's group vice president for government and industry affairs, said the automaker "supports the direction of these goals."

General Motors Corp., meanwhile, said in a statement that it would try to ensure that "any fuel economy increases are technically achievable and do not compromise safety, performance, or limit consumer choice."

Environmentalists noted that the proposal could lead to an average fuel economy of 34 miles per gallon in vehicles by 2017, but it would not require the industry to increase the fuel economy of their new cars.

Instead, it would seek increases beginning in model year 2010 for cars and 2012 for light trucks, leaving open the possibility of future increases if Congress provides more flexibility in the regulation.

"This will only be a breakthrough if the president and Congress work together to pass a law guaranteeing that this goal becomes reality, while avoiding loopholes and escape clauses," said David Friedman, research director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Bush was "focusing on the wrong solutions when the right ones are easily available," such as fuel economy standards of 40 miles per gallon, said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program.

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