Bush Drive to Save Fuel Fails to Include Cars and Biggest SUVs
Published on Wednesday, August 24, 2005 by the Guardian / UK
Bush Drive to Save Fuel Fails to Include Cars and Biggest SUVs
By Jamie Wilson

The Bush administration yesterday put forward a plan to make the US's burgeoning fleet of pickup trucks, minivans and some sports utility vehicles go further on a gallon of gas in response to the soaring cost of petrol.

But the plan, which would not be implemented until 2008, was condemned by environmental groups because the largest SUVs, such as the Hummer H2, would not be affected. It would also not affect cars.

The average price of a gallon of petrol in the US has risen by 70 cents in the past year to $2.55 a gallon - still significantly less than half the price in Britain. But in a country where ownership of a car, and increasingly of a gas-guzzling SUV, is considered a civil right, the topic is dominating the airwaves, with radio phone-ins inundated with callers complaining about the cost of filling up.

"This is a plan that will save gas and result in less pain at the pump for motorists without sacrificing safety," said Norm Mineta, the transportation secretary, who claimed that the scheme would save 10bn gallons - more than 30m tonnes - of fuel.

US car makers are currently required to maintain an average fuel consumption of 27.5mpg for passenger cars and 21mpg for light trucks, which include pickups, SUVs and minivans.

The proposal would abandon the concept of fleet-wide fuel economy and instead divide light trucks into six categories, based on size, with the smallest vehicles required to get better mileage than larger trucks.

"Making our cars and trucks go farther on a gallon of gas is the biggest single step we can take to save money at the gas pump, cut oil dependence and cut global warming," a spokesman for the Sierra Club environmental group said.

A watchdog group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the "minuscule" change in fuel economy would do virtually nothing to reduce the US dependence on oil or address high fuel costs. "The administration's claim of saving 10bn gallons of gasoline with this proposal amounts to less than one month's worth of gasoline saved over 15 years," a spokesman said.

As well as a shared national angst, the rising price of petrol has also led to a rise in forecourt crime: last week an Alabama petrol station owner was run down and killed by a driver who police believe was trying to escape with $52 worth of petrol. Husain "Tony" Caddi, 54, died after he grabbed hold of a vehicle and was then dragged across a car park and on to a highway, police said. He fell from the vehicle and was run over by one of its rear wheels. Police are searching for the driver.

"As the price of gas climbs, people's values decline," Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, told the Associated Press news agency.

© 2005 Guardian Newspapers Ltd. / UK