Panel Urges Beefed Up Fuel Standards

U.S. automakers could increase the fuel efficiency of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), pickup trucks and cars by 16 to 47 percent over the next 10 to 15 years, a National Academy of Sciences report said yesterday.

The Bush administration has said it would rely on the report in deciding whether to push for higher vehicle fuel-economy standards, Reuters reported. The study is also expected to influence a debate later this week in the U.S. House of Representatives on a broad national energy policy aimed at reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Scientists on the panel said fuel savings could be achieved through building lighter-weight vehicles, but said that may increase the risk of injury in traffic accidents.

"There are pros and cons to tightening fuel-economy standards, involving a range of trade-offs," Paul Portney, president of Resources for the Future and chairman of the panel that wrote the report. "No matter what Congress decides regarding specific fuel-economy targets, our committee is adamant that changes should be made to shore up deficiencies in the program."

The current Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, adopted by Congress in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo, require passenger cars to get an average 27.5 miles per gallon and light trucks to get 20.7 mpg. The report stopped short of calling for specific increases, but said automakers should use technology to raise fuel efficiency and cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Fuel-economy standards could be increased by as much as 36 percent for large passenger cars, it said, and as much as 47 percent for SUVs, minivans and other light-duty trucks.

Current law requires the Transportation Department to notify automakers of changes in fuel standards at least 18 months before the start of a new model year. With new vehicles usually introduced Oct 1, the earliest the government could change standards would be April 2002 for the 2004 models.
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