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Public Statements

Energy Policy Act of 2003 - Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to support the Bond-Levin amendment and I am very pleased to be a cosponsor. I commend both my colleague from Missouri and my senior Senator from Michigan for their work on this issue, and I certainly commend the Senator from Michigan for his statement. He presented the argument very well.

I also rise to oppose the Durbin amendment. I begin by saying this debate is not about whether we should increase vehicle fuel efficiency. That is not what this is about. I agree with Senator Durbin about the importance of creating more fuel-efficient cars and SUVs, not only because it decreases our consumption of oil and our dependence on foreign oil but because of the important benefits it has to our environment.

This debate is about what is the best way to increase fuel efficiency without punishing U.S. manufacturers and American jobs. We have made significant progress since last year's debate. NHTSA is moving forward with increasing CAFE standards. This past April, it announced its final rulemaking for light trucks for model years 2005 through 2007. This will be the largest CAFE increase in 20 years and

NHTSA has already announced plans to continue with rulemaking for the 2008 model year and beyond, later this year.

While this progress is extremely important, there are significant problems with the current CAFE standards and the way they are calculated. For example, the regulations continue to ignore such basic factors as the adverse competitive impacts of CAFE on our U.S. automakers, impacts on U.S. employment, and technology costs and necessary lead-time—which is very important.

The Bond-Levin amendment addresses these problems and builds on Senator LANDRIEU's amendment to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 1 million barrels a day, an amendment I supported.

However, the Durbin amendment not only fails to fix the problems with the current CAFE system, but it makes them significantly worse.

Despite producing vehicles that are as fuel efficient, and often more fuel efficient than their foreign counterparts, our U.S. automakers continue to have a lower CAFE average then their foreign competitors. Why? That doesn't make any sense. Because the CAFE system does not reflect the real fuel economy of the cars and trucks in an automaker's fleet; instead it really reflects what vehicles consumers buy.

Therefore, an automaker can increase the fuel efficiency of all of its vehicles but still have a decline CAFE average depending on what models sell the most.

For example, over the past 4 years, GM has introduced new car and light truck models that are more fuel efficient than the models that they replaced, but GM's light truck CAFE has actually gone down.

In model year 2001, GM's combined car and truck CAFE average was 24.2 miles per gallon. For model year 2002, GM made fuel economy improvements to 18 different vehicles in its fleet, including SUVs and pickup trucks.

Some of these vehicles had 18 percent, 17 percent, 10 percent improvements in fuel economy over the previous year's models. The Chevrolet Silverado, a full size pickup truck, had over a 7 percent improvement on fuel economy.

But do you know what GM's combined car and truck CAFE average was for model year 2002? It was 23.4 miles per gallon, a 0.8 mile per gallon decrease from 2001. GM improved the fuel economy of 18 vehicles and their CAFE actually went down.

How does a system that does not reflect actual improvements in vehicle fuel economy and penalizes automakers for doing the right thing make sense? That is what this debate is about.

During last year's debate on this issue, we discussed in great depth the need for building a real federal partnership with our automakers to develop cleaner, advanced technologies, over arbitrarily picking higher CAFE numbers. The Senate resoundingly supported the first approach with a vote of 62-38 for last year's Levin-Bond amendment which I was pleased to cosponsor.

The Durbin amendment, however, would increase the CAFE standard for passenger cars from 27.5 miles per gallon to 40 miles per gallon—a 45 percent increase—in only 10 years. Incidentally, excluding hybrid and diesel vehicles, there are no cars on the market today that would meet this requirement.

It would also shift SUVs into the passenger car category, requiring SUVs that currently have a 20.7 mile per gallon CAFE standard, to double their fuel efficiency and meet a 40 mile per gallon standard. That would require an almost 100 percent CAFE increase for SUVs in just 10 years.

This amendment will have a disproportionately negative impact on our Big Three automakers, since they make a higher proportion of SUVs and pick up trucks than passenger cars. Furthermore, this CAFE proposal will not guarantee a more fuel efficient SUV, but it will guarantee that the SUV will not be made by an American auto company. How does that make sense?

It is also important to remember that the 40 miles per gallon number in this amendment is not anywhere in the National Academy of Science's 2001 report on CAFE.

Even under the most optimistic scenarios in the NAS report, which assume that consumers are willing to recover the higher costs of the technology over a 14 year period instead of a 3 year period and assume "low" technology costs, the highest projected level for any car within the 10-15 year timeframe, is 38.9 miles per gallon and that is for subcompact passenger cars.

And that is less than 40.

So if you assume that everyone gives up the SUV, gives up the truck, gives up the midsize car even, and goes to a subcompact passenger car, even if we all did that, we would not be able to reach the number in the Durbin amendment.

This amendment sets a CAFE number that according to the experts at NAS, not even the smallest passenger car could meet today.

The Bond-Levin amendment increases vehicle fuel efficiency without placing anticompetitive restrictions on our U.S. automakers. The amendment looks to the future, and provides the market incentives and investment in developing technologies that will really revolutionize the automobile industry.

The amendment directs the NHTSA to complete a rulemaking to increase fuel efficiency for passenger cars within the next 30 months, and standards for model year 2008 and beyond for light trucks within the next 32 months, but it also requires NHTSA to consider the flaws in the current CAFE system for this rulemaking.

We need to let the experts at NHTSA continue to do their job. And NHTSA has already moved forward by announcing the recent regulations for light trucks, the largest CAFE increase in 20 years.

Congress also needs to help automakers move in the right direction, instead of pulling them in the wrong one. Our automakers have already invested millions of dollars in developing cleaner, better technologies, and these investments are starting to pay off for the American consumer.

For example, a hybrid electric version of the GM Sierra full size pickup truck is going into production next year. Ford is currently developing a hybrid Ford Escape SUV which will be capable of being driven more than 500 miles on a single tank of gasoline.

In addition to these great technological developments, automakers have been working on fuel cell vehicles which could revolutionize the automobile sector within the next 15 years.

The Durbin amendment will force automakers to divert funding and research away from these important technological advancements and make meeting these incremental CAFE increases a funding and research priority. The Durbin amendment also locks the automakers into a rigid fuel efficiency plan for the next 10 years, setting back the progress they should be making on these important technologies.

Instead of placing restrictions on what our automakers produce, we should be looking for ways to help them introduce these better, cleaner technologies.

The Bond-Levin amendment includes incentives such as federal fleet purchase and alternative fuels requirements and a real federal investment in hybrid and clean diesel research and development.

These incentives will help create and build market demand for the more fuel efficient hybrid, electric or fuel cell vehicles, instead of locking automakers into costly incremental CAFE increases.

I urge my colleagues to vote for Bond-Levin-Domenici-Stabenow amendment and support increased fuel efficiency and a vibrant, economically healthy U.S. auto industry.

I yield the floor.

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