FAIRBANKS - Alaska's U.S. senators are proposing tougher vehicle efficiency standards and other controls on petroleum consumption.
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The approach by Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski is, in part at least, a strategic move in their longstanding effort to open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Stevens introduced legislation earlier this month calling for passenger cars to average 40 miles per gallon by 2017. Stevens also is pushing for creation of a voluntary greenhouse gas trading system where auto companies could buy credits toward compliance with the efficiency standards, although he remains skeptical about the need to reduce human production of such gases.
Murkowski on Tuesday endorsed Stevens' bill and introduced a companion measure to create tax credits for alternative energy sources and expand and extend those offered on hybrid vehicles. Murkowski's bill also would launch a study for requiring more efficient commercial trucks.
The two bills together could cut domestic oil usage by 5 million barrels a day by 2050, said Murkowski spokesman Kevin Sweeney. That's a little less than what the U.S. now produces domestically, but the nation imports more than 10 million barrels per day, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Stevens said last week he has wanted to introduce a corporate average fuel efficiency, or CAFE, bill "for some time."
"I think we ought to identify ourselves with the people who say, 'Look, we want to have as much control as possible over the vehicles that burn this gas that is derived from our oil production,"' Stevens said. "I also think we have to stand up to the people that want to stop any development in Alaska because there is excess, in their opinion, excess emissions from the use of automobiles today."
Stevens has backed fuel efficiency legislation before. His new bill, however, wouldn't give the government the flexibility that earlier legislation offered. The new bill says the secretary of transportation "shall prescribe" a fuel economy standard of 40 mpg by 2017.
Neither Stevens nor Murkowski are identifying themselves with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who last week introduced the latest version of their anti-warming bill. Their legislation would cap greenhouse gas emissions in the United States at the 2000 level and ratchet them down to one-third that level by 2050.
Murkowski said she can't support that bill because the damage to the U.S. economy would be too great. She's looking at a proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., that would not cap emissions but would limit the growth relative to the economy.