Fuelish opposition

October 08, 1990|By Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, S.D.

LEGISLATION that would require automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of new cars suffered a bumpy ride in Congress.

Logical as the idea of improved standards sounds, the proposal ran into snags in the Senate . . . and is not expected to survive this year's lawmaking process.

Congress should waste no time reviving the idea in 1991.

U.S. News & World Report magazine made a strong case for higher fuel standards in a recent editorial calling for an increase in the gasoline tax: "Back in the 70s, when OPEC put a gun to our heads, we started to drive smaller cars and Detroit rapidly improved its fleet's efficiency," it said. "American cars today get about twice as many miles per gallon as the guzzlers of old. But with oil prices dropping in the 1980s, 'muscle cars' came into style and Detroit's progress slowed significantly."

Once again, there is a gun to the nation's head. . . . Retail gas prices are climbing again. . . . Some analysts predict that if fighting erupts in the Mideast, prices in the United States will rise to $2 a gallon or more.

Rising gas prices should be incentive enough for the nation to impose higher mileage standards on the auto industry. But there are other reasons; pollution control, for one. Reducing fuel consumption could decrease the amount of carbon dioxide cars spew into the air.

Legislation before the Senate would have required automakers to increase the average fuel economy of new cars to 35 miles per gallon in 1995 and 40 miles per gallon by 2001.

Considering that foreign automakers have developed prototypes that get 70 miles a gallon and more, one can't help but wonder about the real motives and interests of opponents of higher mileage standards. The possibility of laziness comes to mind. So does the fear of buyers resisting cars that might cost more.

The technology to make cars more fuel efficient, without sacrificing safety, seems to exist. Congress should force the auto industry to act.

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