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What War In Iraq?
Fuel economy? Who needs fuel economy? After all, we're in Iraq reasons (Darfur?)? Because we didn't feel like going full-speed ahead after Osama? Because Iraq supposedly had WMD (N. Korea?)?

The EPA has held back a report on fuel economy -- right when Congress is poised for a final vote on the energy bill, writes Danny Hakim, in The New York Times -- and for good reason, it seems.

But a copy of the report, embargoed for publication Wednesday, was sent to The New York Times by a member of the E.P.A. communications staff just minutes before the decision was made to delay it until next week. The contents of the report show that loopholes in American fuel economy regulations have allowed automakers to produce cars and trucks that are significantly less fuel-efficient, on average, than they were in the late 1980's.

Releasing the report this week would have been inopportune for the Bush administration, its critics said, because it would have come on the eve of a final vote in Congress on energy legislation six years in the making. The bill, as it stands, largely ignores auto mileage regulations.

The executive summary of the copy of the report obtained by The Times acknowledges that "fuel economy is directly related to energy security," because consumer cars and trucks account for about 40 percent of the nation's oil consumption. But trends highlighted in the report show that carmakers are not making progress in improving fuel economy, and environmentalists say the energy bill will do little to prod them.

"Something's fishy when the Bush administration delays a report showing no improvement in fuel economy until after passage of their energy bill, which fails to improve fuel economy," said Daniel Becker, the Sierra Club's top global warming strategist. "It's disturbing that despite high gas prices, an oil war and growing concern about global warming pollution, most automakers are failing to improve fuel economy."

Eryn Witcher, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said the timing of the release of the report had nothing to do with the energy bill deliberations.

"We are committed to sharing our scientific studies with the public in the most comprehensive and understandable format possible," she said. "Issue experts are reviewing the fuel economy data and we look forward to providing a summary of the information next week."

Some of what the report says reaffirms what has long been known. Leaps in engine technology over the last couple of decades have been mostly used to make cars faster, not more fuel-efficient, and the rise of sport utility vehicles and S.U.V.-like pickup trucks has actually sapped efficiency. The average 2004 model car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6 percent less than the 22.1 m.p.g. of the average new vehicle sold in the late 1980's, according to the report.

Yoohoo, Honda Insight gets 66mpg hwy, 45-50 city (I could get even better mileage if I drove more). Cute, too. Here's an article about what a great car it is from the London Observer, by Martin Love:

The Insight is (officially) the nicest, cleanest car you can buy. The £17,100 vehicle is an electro-petrol hybrid which uses Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. This is an electric motor which boosts the power and efficiency of what's essentially a fairly weedy petrol engine by capturing energy normally wasted as heat in the brakes and re-using it. This coupled with an aerodynamic shape and feather-light construction means it can do up to 90 miles on a single gallon. It also produces less CO2 than any other car on the road. It's so clean, even Max Clifford would struggle to find any dirt on it.

However, decreasing our fuel consumption is just one prong in the battle to reduce the impact our cars have on the environment. The average age of a car on Britain's roads is eight years old, yet they're built to last twice that. Modern engines also are capable of vast distances, yet many of us believe once a car breaks the 100,000 barrier it is well on its way to the great landfill in the sky. This is rubbish, of course, in more ways than one. Mercedes recently tracked down a Greek taxi driver with 3m miles on the clock of his 1976 diesel.

To help prove the point, the Insight I'm driving this week has already done 109,000 miles. Usually, test cars turn up with a mileometer barely into double figures, so to have a six-figure sum on the dash shows real confidence from Honda.

The car's green credentials mean that in that time, 13 tonnes of CO2 have not been released into the atmosphere when compared with that produced by a standard hatchback. That's equal to 17 times the car's weight. The driver will also have saved about £4,500 in fuel costs, so it isn't all eco-altruism.

Oh yeah, I warming doesn't exist, and even if it did exist, it wouldn't be caused by humans -- well, that is, if you're a member of the Bush Administration.

Posted by aalkon at July 28, 2005 8:35 AM

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Love the Brits writing style. - "a fairly weedy petrol engine" . . .

What's "weedy"?

Posted by: Jeff R at July 28, 2005 3:13 PM

And yes, it irks me that we are not working more vigorously on improving gas milelage in this country. Especially when it's the most obvious way to quickly cut our dependence on foreign oil.

Posted by: Jeff R at July 28, 2005 3:16 PM

I hate SUV's. I've driven as "green" as possible ever since I can remember. No, sorry, for a short time I had a small bmer, but other than that... The "oil crisis" of the 70's, which I remember as a kid, is ingrained in my head. However, as a parent of a toddler, I succumed and bought a Honda Odyssey. For one reason only - safety. Almost two years ago, when my daughter was born, I had this urge, like a mother bear protecting her cub, to trade my little car in. I had to "feel" safer around all of those damn huge vehicles. I hate it that I feel that need to do so, to compromise and be a part of the problem.

Posted by: Claire at July 28, 2005 4:45 PM

I sure wish somebody would realize that *driving less* is the only solution. What "economy" is there in going to Wal-Mart three times a week?

Oh, by the way - we're in Iraq for the oil. That's why gas is so cheap.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 28, 2005 6:23 PM

Claire -

I wouldn't feel too bad about your Odyssey - it's not really an SUV, more like a normal van. Those are fairly benign compared to the real SUV's like Explorers, Escalades, and the 30 ton Hummers. If only our gov't hadn't given Detroit the truck exception on SUV's to get around the CAFE requirements, we would've been much better off.

Rad, your point is well taken, but a lot of poorer people wind up living farther away from their jobs these days - they often can't afford digs any closer.

Posted by: Dmac at July 28, 2005 7:23 PM

Yeah, for a lot of people our society just isn't well-constructed for "driving less." Suburbia and all that.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 28, 2005 11:30 PM

> What's "weedy"?

weedy, adj. Brit. schoolboy slang: Of laughably slight physique, obvious target for bullying.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at July 29, 2005 6:18 AM

Hey, I'm sensitive to the fuel-costs because my house is about ten miles in the wrong direction to do anything about "driving less"... out here, there's little population. My standard joke is that we're so far out in the boonies, we get new episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show".

But as things are today, even people who CAN afford better actually have no idea what to get: they still buy dry-walled houses good for 20 years at best, jiffy construction on iffy foundations, etc. Since their junk isn't either soundproof or innovative - I've seen better hotel rooms than many houses - people still think the ideal home is 3br 3ba on a half acre. Increasingly, mine is the second floor above the restaurant in the old part of town.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 31, 2005 5:38 PM

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