Stuck in 1975

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 16, 1999

From staff reports

Some of our U.

Thursday, September 16, 1999

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Some of our U.S. representatives and senators were stuck in the 1970s with their decision to leave unopposed a freeze on fuel efficiency studies Wednesday.

Congress in 1975 set the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standard at 27.5 miles per gallon on new passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks. A manufacturer’s CAFE for autos is the average fuel economy for all its cars, from the smallest subcompact to full-size sedan.

The big news in connection with CAFE Wednesday was that the Senate endorsed continuing a five-year-old freeze on raising vehicle efficiency standards, which the auto industry claims would mean higher costs and less safe cars, and unions fear would cost jobs.

But a more interesting aspect of the issue was the Senate’s refusal to go on record as opposing a ban on studying fuel efficiency.

The Senate 55-40 roll call defeated an amendment that would have in effect said, &uot;We don’t like the ban on government studying fuel efficiency.&uot;

Some senators, with Minnesota’s delegation split along party lines, said study would eventually result in government mandates for higher fuel economy.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Still, study seems like a good idea.

Vehicles in the United States today use about 17 million barrels of oil a day, much of this imported. Last time we checked, oil was a finite resource; when it’s gone, it’s gone, whether that day is 75 or 200 years away.

Studying ways of prolonging the supply makes sense.

More important, technology has advanced some since 1975. It seems highly likely that fuel efficiency could be improved, at least a little, without affecting safety.

And, any increases in vehicle costs could be offset entirely by lower fuel bills.

Maybe, just maybe, someone might find a way to squeeze another 5 or 10 miles from a gallon of gas without any effect on safety or increase in cost, after less spending at the pump is considered.

But when Senators are afraid to even condone studying fuel economy, 1975 is likely to remain our fuel efficiency benchmark for some time to come.