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Senate to Debate Higher Fuel Standards


A controversial energy bill would require vehicles on U.S. roads to raise the gas mileage standard to 35-miles per galleon by the year 2020.

NPR's Jack Speer reports.

JACK SPEER: Fuel economy standards have been around since the Arab oil embargo of 1973. The standards, known as CAFE for Corporate Average Fuel Economy, were supposed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But over the years, vehicles have gotten bigger and heavier and hope for economies never materialized.

In a manufacturing summit in Washington last week, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan warned the heads of GM, Ford and Chrysler that higher fuel efficiency standards are coming.

Representative BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): I have previously voted against CAFE standards, but I just want you to know, I think the issue is over. I think you've lost that issue.

SPEER: The auto execs concede they will probably have to live with some increase, but GM Chairman Rick Wagoner says Congress needs to look at other alternatives.

Mr. RICK WAGONER (Chairman, General Motors Corp.): Things like bio-fuels, encouragement of advanced technologies; these are the kind of things that can actually get us to the point of reducing the reliance on oil and oil imports.

SPEER: But environmental groups are skeptical. They say automakers have dragged their feet when it comes to upping fuel efficiency. It's not clear whether a new mileage standard will actually emerge. An alternative proposal has been floated by two Democratic senators from Michigan.

Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jack Speer
Jack Speer is a newscaster at NPR in Washington, DC. In this role he reports, writes, edits, and produces live hourly updates which air during NPR programming.