Energy Bill to Save ‘Billions’

President Bush has promised to sign into law, perhaps as early as today, an energy bill that will mandate the first increase in automotive fuel economy standards in 32 years.

The wide-ranging energy bill, passed by the House on Tuesday and the Senate last week, also calls for a dramatic increase in ethanol use and addresses energy standards for light bulbs and appliances.

“If you drive a car or if you use a toaster or heat your home, this bill is going to save you money,” says Brendan Bell, Washington representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The environmental lobbying group estimates the vehicle fuel economy changes will save consumers $22 billion a year starting in 2020. In the home, the energy efficiency provisions could save $400 billion in electricity and gas bills by 2030, the group says.

“This is billions and billions of dollars for consumers,” Bell says.

The bill will require an automaker’s fleet of cars, pickups, SUVs and vans to have an average fuel economy of 35 miles per gallon in 2020. The standards currently are an average 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.5 mpg for light trucks.

The bill requires a massive increase in the production of plant-based ethanol for motor fuels, from roughly 6 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The auto industry backed the bill after lobbying unsuccessfully to have separate fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, says the industry saw the writing on the wall and knew it had to back some kind of energy plan.

“They know the energy picture isn’t good,” he says. But now the industry has the technology to deal with increasing fuel efficiency standards and is closer to offering a wider array of vehicles fueled by ethanol or powered in large part by electricity.

“They believe the technology is here to enable it,” he says.

“This legislation will provide one clear requirement for increasing fuel economy and provide greater certainty for our product planning,” Ford Motor said in a statement.

Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at car-buying website, says the new requirements will force automakers to make small cars more stylish.

“It’s really good news for consumers,” Reeds says. “Domestic manufacturers have been marketing SUVs so heavily because they think they are the only things that will sell. Small cars are treated like econoboxes. This bill is going to encourage them to look at expanding this market and figure out a way to build small cars which are also very exciting and the consumers really want to buy.” (c) Copyright 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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