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Senators Debate Increasing Fuel Standards for Vehicles

A provision in the new Senate energy bill would increase fuel economy standards for cars and trucks by 2020. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., debate the measure.

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    It's been more than two decades since fuel economy standards were raised for cars in the U.S. Cars are required to get 27.5 miles per gallon on average. Light trucks, including SUVs, minivans and pickups, must meet a fleet average of just over 21 miles a gallon.

    But one provision of the energy bill being debated in the Senate would change the corporate fuel economy standards, or CAFE standards as they are known, and it has backers from both parties. That measure would require all cars and trucks on average to get 35 miles a gallon by 2020 and keep raising standards for years after that.

    Last week, a different bipartisan group of senators introduced an alternative amendment that's more favorable to the industry. It calls for cars to get 36 miles per gallon on average by a later date, 2022. The requirement for trucks is less stringent; they need to get 30 miles a gallon on average by the year 2025.

    For a closer look now at the two competing measures and the views behind them, we get two views from the Senate: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who's advocated tougher standards for a long time; and Republican Kit Bond of Missouri, a co-sponsor of the alternative plan.

    Senator Durbin, let's start with you. What's the measure that you're sponsoring meant to accomplish?

    SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: It's been 22 years since we've increased the fuel economy of cars and trucks in America. We've become more dependent on foreign oil; we're burning more gasoline this year to drive the same miles we drove last year. I think it's time to step into this debate again.

    We put together a bipartisan coalition in the Commerce Committee that's going to call for an increase in the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks, up to 36 miles a gallon, by the year 2020. It will mean a dramatic savings when it comes to the oil that's being burned, the pollution that's being emitted, and our dependence on foreign oil. This is really a test of how sincere we are about our dependency on foreign oil and our concern about global warming.


    Senator Bond, let's take a look at your amendment. How does it differ from what Senator Durbin just described?

    SEN. KIT BOND (R), Missouri: Frankly, we're all going in the same direction. We want to increase the average mileage that cars get and trucks get, but we also are living in a practical world where we have a domestic auto industry, and we now have foreign auto manufacturers who are building cars here. And they're making cars that the public wants to drive.

    We have crafted a bipartisan alternate, as you describe, which says, by 2022, cars have to meet a 35-mile-per-gallon standard, and we recognize that trucks are different. If you have the same standard for cars and trucks, you're going to knock out truck production and light truck production and SUVs completely in the United States. And we will see farmers having to carry their hay bails to feed their cattle in glorified golf carts.

    We think that we can make significant improvements, and that's why we set standard of 30 miles per gallon for light trucks by 2025. But the automatic escalator in the underlying bill that my colleague from Illinois supports raises it to 52 gallons, and that means we're all driving around in little European shoeboxes. The American consumer does not want that.

    The American consumer is buying less gasoline, taking measures to cut down on usage, because the price is making it more expensive. We want to push as fast as we can to get the technology in place so that we will be able to get cars and trucks manufactured here in the United States that can meet the standards, give the consumers what they need, whether they be families wanted to haul their kids to various events, or farmers or other workmen who need to have the trucks to haul either feed for cattle or equipment that they need in their operations.

    We believe ours is doable. It's a stretch. It makes the industry bend, but it does not break it.

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