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Published: Wednesday, 6/20/2007

Some more CAFE?

AS gas prices soared past the $3-a-gallon mark in Toledo, the immediate impact on drivers and the trickle-down hurt to the economy both were being felt. Planned trips were curtailed or abandoned, with vacations proposed for closer to home. And the cost of goods and services increased as some companies were driven to pass on the higher gas prices in fuel surcharges for deliveries.

Meanwhile, the automakers were directing their attention toward Congress, continuing their fight against increases in fuel economy standards.

A vote could come today that would mandate that manufacturers' fleets of cars and trucks average 35 miles to the gallon by 2020, and increase that by 4 percent a year over the following 10 years. The current fleet standard - known by the acronym CAFE - is 25 mpg.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and other lawmakers are proposing an amendment that would call for a lower mileage increase and split the standards for cars and for trucks and SUVs. At the same time it would promote alternative fuels and research tax credits for the automakers.

The position of Senator Levin and others who oppose more rigorous CAFE standards is understandable, to a point. Michigan has been battered by the auto industry's decline. Plants have closed. Jobs have been lost. The impact has been felt here in Toledo, too. No one needs to convince us of the importance of the auto business to our economy.

But we also recognize that automakers have profited while paying too little attention to ramping up investment in and production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The CAFE standards proposed in the Senate are not punitive; environmental groups point out that they do not penalize segments of the economy, such as farmers and workers in construction, who rely on pick-ups, for example.

The standards are recognition that the United States must reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and make vehicles that consume less gas and emit fewer pollutants. Higher mpg standards must go hand-in-hand with intensive research into alternative fuels.



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