Fuel Economy "Improvements" in House Energy Bill to Increase Oil Consumption Over the Next Decade

July 20, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The fuel economy provisions adopted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday would result in increased oil consumption by U.S. passenger vehicles in the next decade and would save very little in the following one, according to an analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The group says that the 5-billion-gallon savings over the period 2004-2010 mandated by the energy bill emerging from the Committee corresponds to a very minor increase in the miles-per-gallon standard for light trucks (including SUVs), and that these savings would be wiped out entirely by another provision of the bill.

The bill directs automakers to increase the average miles-per-gallon of their SUVs, pick-ups, and minivans in the years 2004-2010 so as to save 5 billion gallons of oil over the same period. The miles-per-gallon increase needed to meet that oil savings target depends on the industry's timetable for phasing in the fuel efficiency improvements. "Raising average light truck fuel economy by less than 1 mpg in 2004 would meet the bill's requirements," said Therese Langer, ACEEE's Transportation Program Director. "But we need to be aiming for an increase of 10-15 mpg for these vehicles, not 1 mpg." The Committee voted down an amendment to the bill that would have raised average fuel economy of the entire passenger vehicle fleet from 24 to 40 mpg.

The fuel economy provisions of the bill have other problems as well, notably the extension of a program giving fuel-savings credits to auto manufacturers for producing vehicles that are capable of running on alternative fuels. Initially intended to promote the use of fuels such as ethanol, the credits have simply resulted in increased gasoline consumption as automakers have made inefficient vehicles that can run on alternative fuels in principle but run on gasoline in fact. "Extending the 'dual fueled automobile' credit for four years will cost the United States more than 5 billion gallons of oil over the next decade," said ACEEE Executive Director Steve Nadel. "There won't be even a trickle of oil savings from this bill until 2013, and the savings are unimpressive thereafter."