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Rolling Bachwards

Editorial for August 16

It's hard to imagine what members of the U.S. House of Representative were thinking on Aug. 1, when they approved a measure that would allow for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while at the same time demanding basically no changes in the mileage requirements for sport-utility vehicles and light trucks.

In a 269-160 vote, the House rejected an effort to improve the fuel efficiency of SUVs, minivans, and light trucks from the current average of a mere 20.7 miles per gallon to 27.5 miles per gallon by the year 2007.

In a technological age, and in the nation that is supposed to be the most advanced in the world, it's an outrage and an embarrassment that a majority of our elected representatives in the House of Representatives want us to believe that the auto industry can't do any better than 20.7 mpg.

Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York was one of those who had the common sense to put the issue in perspective.

"There is just no persuasive argument against raising fuel standards," Boehlert said. "It's the simplest, most basic conservation step available to us."

In a nation that has found ways to produce much more energy-efficient light bulbs, hot water heaters, and homes, it's a joke for politicians and automakers to tell us the same can't be done with our automobile.

In fact, the overall fuel efficiency of American cars and trucks has been rolling backwards for years now. That's right: With more Americans driving the fuel-wasting SUVs, the current average fuel efficiency of American cars has fallen down to the level we were at way back in 1986. How's that for 15 years of innovative progress?

Further, according to Forbes magazine, the average fuel economy for new vehicles on the road is the lowest it has been in two decades: 24 mpg.

It's a shame to see so little leadership from those in Washington, D.C., when it comes to asking auto manufacturers to come up with more efficient products. It's rubbish for them to contend these improvements can't be made within six years.

Remember, the potential for a serious energy shortage has been in our national consciousness since at least 1973, when the oil embargo resulted in long lines at gas stations. But instead of making progress in the intervening three decades, auto manufacturers instead have lost ground by making the same mistake they made in the 1970s -- pushing demand for bigger and bigger "luxury" cars via obnoxious advertising campaigns. And every time another energy shortage arises, corporate leaders claim they can't meet the target dates for changes, warning that jobs could be lost if new fuel standards are imposed.

We deserve something better from the automakers, and deserve a lot better from our political leaders. They apparently do not have the courage or the wisdom to ask auto manufacturers to step up and do the right thing: give American motorists fuel-efficient vehicles.

JB

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