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UAW, Auto Industry Criticize Proposed Efficiency Standards

September 7, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A proposal to strengthen automobile fuel-efficiency requirements is unrealistic and could lead the industry to compromise safety and cut its work force, labor and industry leaders said Thursday.

But supporters said the bill was needed to reverse trends toward U.S. reliance on foreign oil and global warming. They accused the industry of exaggerating the difficulty of meeting the proposed standards and their economic impact.

″Your predecessors ... in effect forecast the collapse of Western civilization as we know it in 1974″ when they lobbied against the original Corporate Average Fuel Economy law, Sen. Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., told industry representatives at a hearing of the Commerce, Science and Technology consumer subcommittee.

″Why should I believe you based upon your previous testimony?″ asked Bryan, chairman of the subcommittee.

Bryan wants to require a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency from the current fleet average by 1995 and a 40 percent improvement by 2000.

The current law requires each manufacturer’s fleet of new cars and light trucks sold in the Unites States average at least 27.5 miles per gallon. For General Motors, the Bryan bill would require a minimum of 33 mpg in 1995 and 40 mpg by 2000, said Marina N. Whitman, a GM vice president.

Strengthening the law this year would be especially burdensome for the industry, which already faces higher costs should Congress approve President Bush’s demand for lower emissions of nitrogen oxides, Ms. Whitman said. Various federal laws and regulations are requiring air bags, larger air conditioners and anti-lock brakes, adding still more costs, she said.

The law ″fails because the law pressures producers to build still more fuel-efficient vehicles without creating incentives for consumers to buy them,″ she said.

Foreign-car manufacturers complained the Bryan proposal would punish those who have exceeded the 1974 law’s requirements by forcing them to improve efficiency by the same proportion as those who have not.

″Not only will this reduce competition among companies to improve fuel economy, but it will prevent consumers from having a price-competitive range of products from which to choose,″ said Hal Bracken, a Toyota vice president.

Owen Bieber, president of United Auto Workers, told the panel that cars probably would become more fuel-efficient but that specific targets should not be a matter of law.

Bryan said his bill would save the country 49.1 billion gallons of fuel and would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 483 million tons between 1995 and 2001.

″While we no longer wait anxiously as OPEC meets in Vienna ... America is becoming more dependent on imported oil,″ he said. Sen. Albert Gore, D- Tenn., is pushing a separate idea to levy a fee on auto emissions and granting a rebate to owners of fuel-efficient vehicles.

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