WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Thursday to increase fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon for cars and SUVs, the first significant boost demanded of automakers in nearly 20 years.
The agreement was announced at a news conference and then quickly adopted by the Senate without a roll call vote. It scaled back tougher standards already in the Senate's energy bill but was still considered strong enough to have wide support from environmentalists.
"It closes the SUV loophole," declared Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., referring to current requirements that allow much less stringent fuel efficiency standards for SUVs and pickup trucks than for cars. "This is a victory for the American public."
The compromise, approved without floor debate, was crafted over several days behind closed doors with the aim of heading off attempts by senators sympathetic to the auto industry to press a less stringent proposal.
President Bush, who was in Alabama visiting a nuclear power plant, said Congress must "be realistic" about the energy legislation. The White House opposes having Congress mandate a specific mileage number for auto fuel economy. Bush believes the Transportation Department should be given increased flexibility to set a standard.
Automakers are currently required to meet an average of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks. The car standard has not changed since 1989, though the truck requirements have been increased slightly by the Bush administration.