Fuel plan isn't saving us much

The Bush administration deserves a failing grade on its plan for higher fuel economy standards and should be told by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to return to the drawing board for more realistic changes in line with current demand and supply of gasoline.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta came out with the administration's proposal last month pronouncing - with a straight face - that the changes would result in savings of 10 billion gallons of gasoline. Because that's a big number, it sounds like a big step in the right direction.

Wrong. It's a tiny step. Last year, drivers in the United States used almost 140 billion gallons of gasoline, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, and the 10 billion in savings is projected over 15 years.

That's not impressive at a time when Americans are beginning to understand our energy supply is limited and is heavily dependent on countries who might not always be our allies.

This measly 10-billion-gallon savings is small because the administration is recommending small increases in fuel economy standards and none in some categories.

The new standards, which manufacturers would have to meet, would raise average fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and SUVs, except the Ford Excursion and Hummers, from the current 21 miles per gallon to 24 mpg in 2011. That's barely a change. The Excursion and Hummers have no requirement.

The plan also establishes six categories, eliminating the industry-wide corporate average fuel efficiency, which may just provide a loophole by which manufacturers can add a few pounds to a vehicle to move it into a higher category that has more lenient fuel standards.

Among the curious administration recommendations is that passenger cars, which now are required to get 27.5 miles per gallon, would be unchanged. Why wouldn't that standard be raised? Because they exist, we know cars that get far better mileage than 27.5 mpg can be produced.

The Washington Post says the Bush administration asked members of the car industry what was feasible for them, "given the available technology and taking into consideration the industry's economic woes." Didn't Mineta and others realize they would get low-ball numbers? The administration was setting itself up for failure.

The long history of Americans being allowed to consume all the energy they desire has ended. While many Americans may be able to pay the high costs, the resources aren't there. All Americans must start to think conservation.