Salazar under pressure to back new fuel-economy standards |

Salazar under pressure to back new fuel-economy standards

Jennifer Talhelm
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

WASHINGTON ” Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar is facing pressure from environmentalists to support higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, a key piece of an energy bill being debated in the Senate.

Salazar, a Democrat who normally has the support of environmental groups, is one of a few senators still on the fence about the controversial new standards. The bill is expected to face a tough challenge in the next several days, and advocates say Salazar’s vote will be pivotal.

“I’m very much leaning toward supporting it,” Salazar said Tuesday, adding that he still has concerns about its effect on heavy farm vehicles.

But Salazar has not endorsed a provision passed by the Commerce Committee, which would raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy ” or CAFE ” standards for cars and trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, an increase of about 10 mpg over current levels.

Supporters consider CAFE a vital part of a larger energy bill focused on reducing oil dependency and greenhouse gas emissions.

Western senators are leading the debate on the bill this week. New Mexico’s Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici ” the Democratic chairman and leading Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, respectively ” are among the senators who have already endorsed the Commerce Committee provisions.

Others, including Colorado’s Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, have already said they oppose forcing auto manufacturers into a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Allard said he fears it would cause the industry to cut back on safety or consumer comfort.

“This vote in the Senate is going to be a very close one, and (Salazar) can be the deciding vote,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency in Washington. “He needs to identify where he stands.”

The Sierra Club in Colorado and Environment Colorado have launched a campaign to persuade Salazar to support the CAFE standards. They are airing radio ads in Grand Junction, Colo., and have asked members to call Salazar. Environmentalists also met earlier this spring with aides in Salazar’s Denver office.

Advocates say increased efficiency standards are the best way to ensure cars will produce less of the pollution that scientists say is warming the earth. Colorado and other Western states are working on initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases at the state level.

“Improved CAFE standards will help everybody,” said Roger Singer, the Sierra Club’s regional representative. “We’re hoping that Senator Salazar will follow other Colorado decision-makers who have shown great leadership here at the state level.”

But Salazar said he is still weighing amendments and has concerns about the bill’s effect on farm trucks and other agricultural vehicles.

Auto-state senators oppose the Commerce Committee-approved standards. Salazar has sided with them on the issue in the past.

Opponents are expected to offer an amendment that would give auto manufacturers more time and flexibility in increasing fuel economy.

Another anticipated amendment would relax standards for heavy trucks, including farm vehicles.

Salazar also is working on amendments that would encourage production of hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles and other oil-saving measures.

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