Driving Miss Detroit

The US auto industry isn't helping the war on terrorism in one important respect. It's pressuring Congress not to impose a higher mandatory gas mileage for SUVs and light trucks. Without such a measure, though, the US will only keep its dependency on Mideast oil, and all the vulnerability that brings.

US automakers, their unions, and their car dealers are currently focusing their influence on the Senate, which will vote soon on raising fuel-efficiency standards. A Democratic bill would raise average mileage standards in cars and trucks to 35 m.p.g. by 2013. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona proposes an increase to 36 m.p.g. by 2016.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group in Washington that tracks campaign contributions, US auto manufacturers and the United Auto Workers plopped down a cool $2.2 million (69 percent to Republicans) in the 2000 election cycle; auto dealers put up $9.3 million. And automakers are making drastic, emotional claims. General Motors, worried that a higher-mileage rule would benefit Japanese firms, warns that the measure would cause most of its family car line to be eliminated.

President Bush was the top recipient of auto-industry money in the last election. No wonder he doesn't want new standards. Not to leave the Democrats out, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D), was the top recipient of GM money. He'll fight for Detroit's interests.

US vehicles drink up 1 out of 7 gallons of oil produced in the world. Surely Detroit can build vehicles that guzzle less gas while maintaining safety standards. Let's not lose more soldiers and civilians to terrorism while politicians pocket the campaign donations of special interests.

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