U.S. House approves legislation to make major change in fuel mileage standards

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(Host) The U.S. House has approved legislation that would make the first major change in fuel mileage standards in over 30 years.

Congressman Peter Welch says the bill would help set the U.S. on a path of energy independence.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:


Under this legislation, car companies will have to achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon for their cars and light trucks by the year 2020. This figure represents a 40% increase in fuel efficiency standards.

The bill also calls on utility companies to generate 15% of their energy portfolio using renewable sources such as wind, hydro, solar, biomass and geothermal over the next 12 years.

A number of car companies dropped their opposition to the bill when special tax credits were included in the legislation to encourage the auto industry to build smaller fuel-efficient cars.

Speaking on the House floor, Congressman Peter Welch said the legislation would help end this country’s dependence on foreign oil:

(Welch) "This energy bill turns the page from a country that has been excessively dependent on oil consumption, to a country that is going to be self confident in its people, in its resources and its ingenuity to take on the energy challenge and turn it into energy opportunity."

Welch says past energy policies have forced the United States to rely on the nations of OPEC – and that dependence, Welch says, has raised serious national security concerns:

(Welch)"On whom we’ve become increasingly reliant and dependent, pursing an energy policy of drill and drill, consume and consume, spend and spend…all with reckless denial, reckless denial to the environmental damage that we are doing by this policy to the earth we all share… all with cavalier disregard to our national security by depending on regimes that are not our friends."

House Republicans tried to block consideration of the bill. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake argued the bill would increase the federal budget deficit. Flake was also upset that Democrats introduced the legislation late Wednesday evening giving the Republicans very little time to review it:

(Flake) "Common practice has been if you can’t get 72 hours, then at least 24. We’ve cut that in half – just 12- and most of that was during the time when most of us were asleep. I can guarantee you that few if any in this body have read this bill, yet we’re voting on a billion, billion, billion dollar bill that virtually nobody knows what’s in it."

The bill faces an uncertain future. President Bush says he may veto the legislation because it repeals over $13 billion in tax credits for the oil industry.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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