US 2001 vehicle mileage falls to 20-year low - EPA
WASHINGTON - American consumers\' love of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles reduced the average fuel mileage of all 2001 model year vehicles to 20.4 miles per gallon, the lowest in two decades, the U.S. government said yesterday.
The Environmental Protection Agency\'s assessment of 2001 vehicle mileage came as Congress struggles to write a broad energy bill to boost supplies of U.S. oil and lessen dependence on imports.
The EPA annual report evaluated the fuel efficiency of 2001 model cars, as well as the class of vehicles known as \"light trucks\" - pick-ups, vans, minivans and sport utility vehicles.
\"The lowest fuel economy since 1980 can be attributed to the increase in light trucks on America\'s roads,\" the EPA said in a statement. \"Light trucks are less fuel efficient.\"
Model year 2001 sport utility vehicles averaged 17.2 miles per gallon (mpg), pick-up trucks 16.5 mpg, and vans and minivans 19.3 mpg. Cars average 24.2 mpg, the EPA said.
The average of all 2001 model vehicles was 20.4 mpg, it said.
By comparison, the average fuel efficiency for all 2000 model vehicles was 24.0 mpg, according to the EPA data from last year\'s \"Fuel Economy Trends\" report. That included 28.1 mpg for passenger cars and 20.5 mpg for all pick-ups, minivans, vans and sport utility vehicles.
AUTOMAKERS TO VOICE CONCERNS
If auto manufacturers increased fuel economy by as little as 3 miles per gallon, consumers would save as much as $25 billion a year in fuel costs, the EPA said.
That modest increase in fuel efficiency would also reduce 140 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year and cut the United States\' reliance on foreign oil by 1 million barrels of oil each day, it said.
The nation consumes about 20 million barrels of petroleum every day, with more than half imported.
On Friday, the National Academy of Sciences will hold a special hearing to hear automakers\' complaints about a July report on how the industry could make vehicles more fuel-efficient.
The independent science panel concluded in its report that Detroit could increase the mileage of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, pick-up trucks and cars by 16 to 47 percent over the next 10 to 15 years.
Scientists on the panel said the fuel savings could be achieved through lighter weight vehicles, but acknowledged that may increase the risk of injury in traffic accidents.
The report stopped short of calling for specific increases in fuel efficiency. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the report overestimated its members\' ability to improve gas mileage.
CONGRESS MULLS ENERGY LEGISLATION
The nation\'s current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were adopted by Congress in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo. The standards require passenger cars to get an average 27.5 mpg and light trucks to get 20.7 mpg.
At that time, light trucks were allowed to get lower mileage because they were used mostly by farmers and small businesses. Now, sport utility vehicles and other light trucks account for half of all U.S. vehicle sales.
In August, the U.S. House rejected a plan to require automakers to raise the fuel efficiency of all light trucks. The House approved a broad national energy package that would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and boost supplies of natural gas, electricity and coal.
The Democratic-controlled Senate, which has yet to finish writing its energy bill, is expected to order the Transportation Department to find ways to hold overall fuel consumption by vehicles at a set level rather than specifying mileage standards for automakers.
But a fight is brewing in the Senate over a Republican-backed plan to open the Arctic refuge to drilling, which many Democrats oppose.
The EPA said it would soon issue a fuel economy guide evaluating specific 2002 model year cars, trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles.
Story by Julie Vorman
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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