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Rev up America's energy future

The US badly needs a 21st-century energy policy. But can Washington get its act together to provide one?

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Should new cars and trucks in the US get better gas mileage? Should more electricity come from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and biofuels? Both moves would curb global warming and reduce oil imports. So why do they remain so controversial in Washington?

Energy bills passed by the Senate in June and the House last Saturday contain these and other valuable provisions that move US energy policy into the 21st century. But the bills, which differ in substantial ways, must be reconciled and then pass muster with President Bush. Whether these important provisions survive, or whether any energy bill will be enacted and signed into law when lawmakers return to work next month, is very much up in the air.

One provision in the Senate bill would raise the average fuel efficiency standards for new cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent boost. Right now, the United States ranks last among major industrialized countries in vehicle fuel efficiency, according to a new report from the International Council on Clean Transportation. While the new standard would still be far below those in Europe and Japan, it would at least bring the US in line with what countries such as China, Canada, and Australia will achieve in the next few years.

Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally said this week that fuel efficiency standards have damaged the auto industry and that a gasoline tax might better push drivers toward less gas-guzzling models.

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