On the road to new fuel economy rules?

A gas nozzle in the fuel port of a car.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Funny thing Greg mentioned higher fuel economy standards, because Congress is close to requiring exactly that. The standards would be tucked into a huge energy package, which could see a vote as early as next week. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: The deal would give automakers until 2020 to reach a fleet-wide average fuel economy of 35 miles per gallon. That's about a 10 mile per gallon boost over the current standard -- and according to some experts, it could save more than a million barrels of oil a day, or about half of the U.S.'s imports from the Persian Gulf.

That may seem like a lot, but U.C. Berkeley energy expert Dan Kammen says it hardly revolutionary.

Dan Kammen: Making our vehicles 35 miles per gallon or more by 2020, when much of Europe is already at 35 miles per gallon today, is not even really much of a catch-up step.

He says it's an even smaller step when you consider the drastic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions needed to avert the worst effects of global warming. Others are more forgiving -- Washington energy lobbyist Scott Segal says given the timing, it's a near miracle the fuel economy standards are even on the table.

Scott Segal: Well, it's been said many times that politics is sort of the art of the possible. And this energy bill is a good reflection of that, because there's not a whole lot that's possible this close to a presidential election year, this close to a lot of contentious debates on broader issues like global climate change.

Segal says lawmakers are likely to sacrifice some of the more controversial parts of the energy bill. One is the plan to repeal $16 billion in oil industry tax breaks. Another would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable energy sources.

Segal says what's left mirrors the type of energy bill president Bush said he would sign. He says some lawmakers are willing to make those sacrifices now in order to tackle broader legislation on global warming once the president leaves office.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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