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Energy Bill Doesn't Set 35 MPG Standard You May Think it Does

There’s been a lot of talk about the new 35-mpg CAFE standards that President Bush recently signed into law. The bill itself is quite extensive — 822 pages — and includes sections on alternative fuels and more in addition to overall fleet fuel economy. You can read the whole thing here.

One of the most glaring issues is that the Secretary of Transportation gets to determine how we come up with the 35 mpg figure, NOT the EPA, which recently reworked its mileage tests to come up with more realistic fuel economy numbers. Those are the numbers you see on window stickers and on Cars.com, yet the Secretary can use any mathematic formula he or she sees fit to determine the fuel economy estimates that will be used in judging whether automakers are meeting the 35 mpg standard — even with no testing, if that’s what he or she so desires.   

Also, the 35 mpg standard doesn’t apply to work trucks or medium-duty, heavy-duty and commercial vehicles. Work trucks are ones that weigh between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. The mileage standard work trucks will have to meet has not yet been determined, and there’s a one-year term in which the Secretaries of Energy and Transportation and the administrator of the EPA can determine that number. So that overall number for “automobiles” refers to anything with four wheels that weighs less than 10,000 pounds, besides those work trucks. Which means trucks like the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado fall under the 35 mpg rule, as do virtually all consumer vehicles, with the exception of medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Want to scratch your head more? Keep reading.

  • These same three administrators won’t even touch medium-duty, heavy-duty and commercial vehicles for at least another four years, while more studies are conducted.
  • A credit-trading program will continue, meaning companies that exceed the new mileage limits can sell their credits to underperforming manufacturers.
  • There will be even more information on new-car window stickers to make mileage and greenhouse-gas emissions information clearer, and there will be a number of education programs set forth presumably to teach consumers what they all mean.
  • Starting in 2009, the EPA will reevaluate its mileage ratings and testing processes every five years.
  • Grants will be given to governments and other nonprofit entities that use plug-in electric vehicles, to the tune of $90 million a year.
  • The government will guarantee loans to manufacturers of advanced batteries to build manufacturing facilities in the U.S. 
  • The government will pay up to 30% of the costs for automakers to retrofit current facilities or build new ones to manufacture high-efficiency vehicles. This could mean up to $25 billion in loans.

There’s a lot more to the bill; this was just what we found in the first 60 pages. If you’re a legal eagle and want to tell us what else you find in there — and what you interpret it to mean — feel free to comment below.