President George W. Bush is showing new interest in automobile gas mileage, spurred on by public outrage over fuel prices. But don't expect the administration to embrace significant increases in requiring how far cars go on a gallon (liter) of fuel.
The president wants Congress to let him rewrite mileage rules for new car fleets. Some critics suggest that request could instead spur automakers to produce more gas guzzlers.
The rules are known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE. Enacted in 1975, they were a response to the shocks of the Arab oil embargo. Automakers today must meet a fleet average of 27.5 miles per gallon for its cars, a standard unchanged in two decades.
Bush told reporters last week he wants Congress to "give me the capacity to raise CAFE standards on automobiles."
The administration has opposed such increases for cars whenever the issue has come up in Congress. Last summer, the White House objected to a proposal requiring the president to find ways to cut U.S. oil consumption by 1 million barrels a day, about 5 percent, saying the plan was a "back door" to higher mileage requirements.
So, has the president changed his mind? Not quite.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta told congressional leaders he wants the power to "reform" the mileage rules and that the administration would keep opposing tougher mileage requirements under the current system.
Bush's chief economic adviser, Al Hubbard, acknowledged that the White House has no idea how much the changes, if allowed, would raise car mileage.
Said the Sierra Club's Daniel Becker: "Given the administration's track record, this is more evasion than an epiphany," reports AP.