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Fuel-efficiency politics on deck

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: As you’re probably aware President Bush delivers his State of the Union address tonight. U.S. automakers will be playing close attention. The President is expected to call for better fuel economy. However it may not satisfy those who are pushing for a big increase in fuel efficiency. Sarah Gardner explains why from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.

SARAH GARDNER: Under the current system, carmakers must average the fuel economy of all their car models when trying to meet the government’s standard.

President Bush, however, may call for discarding that system, which tends to favor companies like Honda that make a lot of smaller vehicles.

Instead, he may propose setting a miles-per-gallon limit based on each car model’s size or so-called “footprint.”

DAVID COLE: We need a full line of products to satisfy consumers.

David Cole is at the Center for Automotive Research. He believes the footprint system makes more sense, because it lets the market play a bigger role.

COLE: So rather than focus on all of these lumped together why not push the improvements in efficiency for each of these sizes of vehicles.

Light trucks already operate under the footprint system. Critics, however, say that kind of change for passenger vehicles may just encourage big cars and, in the end, make a smaller dent in gas consumption.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

THOMAS: Meanwhile the New York Times is reporting the President will call for a big increase, perhaps doubling the amount of ethanol refiners mix in with gasoline.

According to the paper at least half the ethanol would come from corn. That would indicate White House support for Midwest farm states which have gotten the most from the recent ethanol boom.

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