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The fight over fuel economy standards

John Dimsdale May 2, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: They’re called CAFE standards. Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Government-speak for the mileage requirements carmakers have to meet. Back in March the White House boosted the minimums for light trucks. And SUVs. But today 10 states sued. They said the new rules are too soft on Detroit, and don’t really cut fuel consumption, anyhow. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has the story.

JOHN DIMSDALE: States say the federal government failed to perform a required assessment of how SUVs and light trucks increase pollution and waste fuel. Had that been done, the states argue, the minimum mileage requirements would have been pegged a lot higher.

The new federal standards for pickup trucks and SUVs were increased from 21.6 to 24 miles per gallon. But California’s Attorney General Bill Lockyer says the regulation gives Detroit lower standards for heavier vehicles.

BILL LOCKYER: It produces incentives to manufacturers to make the very large SUVs, the gas guzzlers. And so, we’re not sure its going to net out the kind of fuel-efficiency savings they hope for.

The latest federal rules also preempt states from setting their own, tougher, tailpipe pollution standards. California has already done so, and Frank O’Donnell at Clean Air Watch says the states joining this lawsuit want to make sure they can follow California’s lead.

FRANK O’DONNELL: There’s definitely a states-rights issue here. Should states have ability to do something about global warming if the federal government is dropping the ball.

A spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which established the new fuel economy minimums, says the feds have yet to see the states’ lawsuit and wouldn’t comment. But he did say his agency performed all the fuel consumption and environmental assessments required by law.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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