The national energy bill, signed last month, slipped one by with little comment. It contains faux fuel economy credits for automakers who build hybrid cars even if the vehicles nearly always use gasoline.
That single provision knocks out a lawsuit brought by public interest groups against the federal Department of Transportation.
This loophole allows car makers to claim credits for building what are termed dual fuel vehicles, which ups their fuel economy numbers by up to 1.2 miles per gallon. It would boost U.S. gasoline consumption by 15 billion gallons over the life of its 10-year extension, according to a report on CommonDreams.org.
The exception was extended by the DOT and was challenged last year in a lawsuit by Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Auto Safety. The lawsuit was dropped when the fuel credit provision was signed into law.
The fuel credit was intended to cut oil consumption and promote the production of cars that can use fuels other than gasoline, utilizing up to 85 percent ethanol in addition to gas. But only 221 of the 176,000 service stations in the country furnish ethanol. Some owners of dual fuel cars seemingly dont realize their cars can burn other fuels, and they only fill up with gasoline. In March 2002, the DOT found most such vehicles run on gasoline more than 99 percent of the time.
The automaker taking the biggest advantage of these phony credits is Daimler-Chrysler. The credits improve the fortunes of Dubai and Kuwait, which are Chryslers first- and third-largest investors. Ford and GM also are making more use of the credits to avoid improving the fuel efficiency of their SUVs and trucks.
Dan Lashoff, science director for NRDCs Climate Center, said: Despite the rhetoric, the energy bill just moves the nation toward more oil use, not less. Instead of helping Detroit catch up in the technology race, the bill gives automakers an accounting gimmick.
Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, remarked: The dual fuel loophole cant withstand public scrutiny. The auto industrys friends in Congress hid the extension of this counterproductive program in a 1,700-page energy bill. This cries out for a correction.
From the Sept. 7-13, 2005, issue