Muzzles on the Guzzlers

It's not exactly barreling ahead like a mountain-climbing SUV, but efforts to strengthen fuel efficiency in those oversized vehicles are no longer stuck in neutral.

A House committee has given an initial OK to a transportation bill that doesn't include a roadblock against raising the gas-mileage standards for light trucks (the category includes sports utility vehicles). The roadblock has been inserted into transportation legislation for each of the past six years by lawmakers representing auto and oil interests. A couple of factors could ensure the bill passes this year:

First, car builders are changing their tune. Led by Ford, they've decided to look more green by moving toward more environmentally responsible vehicles. Some manufacturers are trumpeting new engines that could significantly boost SUV gas mileage.

Second, higher gas prices are causing many car buyers to rediscover fuel economy, which in turn has emboldened members of Congress who've long wanted to close the SUV fuel-efficiency loophole. Bills have been introduced in both chambers to push the light-truck standard up toward the car standard (27.5 miles per gallon) over the next few years.

Carmakers would rather the change be voluntary, and they still have plenty of champions in Congress. But logic and need argue strongly for firm, mandatory improvements in gas mileage.

They would serve the country's energy-supply needs and reduce reliance on foreign oil. Not least, they would help show that the US is serious about cutting back on the emissions that contribute to climate change.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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