Fuel economy debate pits soccer moms against conservationists

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

WASHINGTON -- One side sees improved auto fuel economy as key to the nation's energy security. The other side predicts an end to affordable and safe SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks.

The debate over how best to cut the amount of gasoline consumed on U.S. highways took on an emotionally charged tone Tuesday as the Senate began a debate on boosting auto fuel efficiency by as much as 50 percent.

Critics of the proposal argue the mileage requirements, which would be phased in over 13 years, can't be met without making cars smaller, lighter and less safe and limiting consumers' choices on the kinds of vehicles they are able to buy.

"American women love their SUVs and minivans ... because of their safety," proclaimed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who warned that the wrath of "soccer moms" would be heard if the Senate approved the tougher standards.

Another senator said motorists would end up "in glorified golf carts."

John Kerry, D-Mass., sponsor of the fuel economy measure, called such predictions "Alice in Wonderland comments" that ignore that "we are going backward" in reducing the amount of fuel used by motorists.

"It's a scare tactic on soccer moms," complained Kerry.

Kerry wants automakers to increase the average mileage of their new fleets to 36 miles a gallon by 2015, about 50 percent from current federal standards. He insists they have the technology to do it without making vehicles smaller or less safe, or sacrificing the popular SUVs and minivans.

Nonsense, argue his critics.

In an opening salvo Tuesday, they enlisted the fear of retribution from "soccer moms" and "pickup pops" who, they maintain, would no longer be able to buy the vehicles they love. And, they argued, it would mean lost auto industry jobs as U.S. manufacturers find it harder to compete with foreign producers.

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