Senate Commerce Committee Approves Fuel Economy Bill

Panel Approves Carper Amendments on New Battery Technology, Biofuel Standards

Major legislation designed to improve automobile fuel efficiency passed a Senate committee today that includes two key amendments written by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) to help make the American auto industry more competitive.

Mirroring much of the legislation Sen. Carper introduced earlier this year with fellow Delaware Democrat Sen. Joe Biden, the Carper amendments approved today would significantly increase government investments in new battery technology needed to operate electric vehicles and to produce the next generation of "plug-in" hybrids. They would also establish national standards for biodiesel to promote use and development of vehicles fueled by biodiesel.

"Earlier this year, I met with U.S. automakers in Detroit and asked them what Congress could do to help them become more competitive with foreign manufacturers. They told us we needed to do more to invest in battery technology and set new biofuel standards to help them build and sell more fuel-efficient cars and trucks," said Sen. Carper. "The amendments adopted today address these two concerns of our domestic auto manufacturers, yet still more must be done to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles that consumers are demanding."

The amendments were accepted today by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as part of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) legislation to increase the new average fuel standard to 35 miles per gallons by the year 2020. The current fuel standard, set in 1975, is 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 20.7 miles per gallon for light trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Carper continued, "I’ve said from the beginning that as we write new fuel economy standards, we must find a way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and clean up our environment but do so in a way that will not cripple our struggling domestic auto manufacturers. The bill our committee approved today isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. It gives the auto industry more flexibility to reach these new fuel economy standards, while also providing needed incentives to develop new types of alternative fuels for the cars of tomorrow."

In late March, Sens. Biden and Carper introduced "The American Automobile Industry Promotion Act of 2007" to help American auto manufacturers catch up with foreign competitors selling more fuel-efficient vehicles.

At the Commerce committee hearing, Sen. Carper called for an infusion of federal funding to ensure better competition with foreign auto manufacturers. The Japanese, for example, heavily invest in technology that has enabled their auto manufacturers to dominate the international market for lithium ion batteries.

The first Carper amendment would support development of advanced electric components, systems and vehicles, by providing funding for battery research at national laboratories, universities and small businesses. It establishes, through a competitive selection process, an Industry Alliance of private, American- based firms to serve as an advisory resource on short- and long-term battery technology development. The grant program will focus on research and development; demonstration projects; education; and testing.

Sen. Carper’s second amendment also mirrored an initiative in the Biden-Carper bill to set a national standard for biodiesel, a cleaner-burning fuel made from natural and renewable sources.

"We need a clear national standard of what constitutes a bio-fuel, how clean does it burn and what is the right blend for automobiles of the future," Sen. Carper said. "We need quality controls on bio-fuels to guide both companies that manufacture these alternative fuels as well as the the automakers that manufacture the cars that will use the new bio-fuels."