Soft option

Published: Saturday 31 January 2004

The Bush administration has proposed to overhaul US fuel economy regulation for the first time since it was adopted in 1975. The new proposals are, in part, based on a 2001 report of the US National Academy of Sciences, which advises the federal government on technical matters. But environmentalists have dubbed the move as a crude Christmas gift because it does not necessarily entail tightening up of laws.

Since fuel economy norms are lax for light trucks in the US, of late there has been a sharp rise in the sales of these vehicles. The lenient standards are also encouraging the practice of some big cars being classified as light trucks. The new proposal is meant to stop this abuse of definition of vehicles, apart from revising the structure of light truck norms.

Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency that sets fuel economy norms for cars and light trucks sold in the US, feels that regulators should decisively raise standards under the current system. But this appears doubtful, given the close ties of US President George W Bush with automobile manufacturers. In fact, it is apprehended that the industry would heavily influence the new proposals.

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