The 35-mpg federal fuel standard for cars that is the centerpiece of the energy bill that President Bush signed into law last month has caught the world's attention. But it is little-known provisions of the historic legislation that might ultimately have the most impact on America's truckers.

The bill, signed just days after the Senate passed it, ups the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements for the first time since Gerald Ford sat in the Oval Office.

It will force automakers to boost fuel mileage 40% for cars and light trucks (under 10,000 lbs GVW) by 2020. The bill also requires a six-fold increase in ethanol use to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022 as well as new energy efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and buildings.

Many believe the new bill is notable because its final form does not contain incentives to boost widespread use of renewable fuels as well as the end of tax breaks for oil companies to pay for those incentives.

But trucking needs to know that buried in the 822-page bill are provisions that addresses fuel economy standards for what are termed “medium and heavy work trucks,” that is, anything over 10,000 lb. GVW.

The bill also appears to create a new class of vehicle called a “work truck,” which is defined as any non-passenger vehicle with a GVW between 8,500 and 10,000 lb. Both classes of commercial vehicles can expect to see their own set of fuel economy standards by 2016.

The energy bill doesn't set hard and fast MPG averages as it does for light vehicles. Instead it requires the Depts. of Transportation and Energy to join the Environmental Protection Agency to devise “appropriate test procedures” for measuring truck fuel efficiency. Specifically, those tests must take into consideration duty cycles, truck design limitations, the variety of truck applications and overall operating costs.

Within one year of completing the study, the Sec. of Energy and the EPA Administrator are required to issue rules setting fuel economy standards “that are appropriate, cost-effective and technologically feasible for commercial medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and work trucks.” It also gives the Sec. of Energy the flexibility to set separate standards for what it calls “different classes of vehicles.”

“While it should have been a better and stronger bill, with tax breaks for renewable energy and a requirement for electric utilities to use more solar, wind and geothermal energy, it is still a good first step toward a cleaner future for America,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA.

The bill was supported by the United Auto Workers, which said it contains key features the union strongly supports, while including safeguards for U.S. auto manufacturing jobs. “The UAW strongly supports this historic bill, which contains aggressive but still achievable fuel economy requirements,” said Ron Gettelfinger, president of the organization.

Environmentalists still hope to pass a tax incentive to promote renewable energy. “America's solar industry remains undeterred,” Solar Energies Industries Assn. (SEIA) president Rhone Resch said.

“SEIA will continue to pursue a long-term extension of the solar investment tax credits with increased intensity,” he continued. “We will work with our champions in Congress to ensure passage of long-term tax incentives that strengthen America's energy security, create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs, and provide a key solution to climate change.”

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