By Dan Shapley
In the face of near record-high gas prices, growing national security risks, runaway global warming pollution and a universal call among the 2008 presidential candidates for "energy independence," it seems like a no-brainer: Raise the fuel economy standards of the nation's automobiles for the first time in nearly two decades. But it's never been a no-brainer in the Congress, where voices from Detroit are always heard loud and clear. But, for the first time in years, the Senate appears to have enough will power to overcome the always-formidable opposition from automakers and worker unions concerned about the impact of the regulations. The bill would boost the average fleetwide fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 60 percent between 2011 and 2020, and then continue to increase them incrementally by 4 percent each year for another decade. Proponents say it could actually help domestic automakers by spurring innovation in an industry that has largely fallen behind foreign competitors. The fuel economy measure is a centerpiece of the Senate energy bill, which would also stimulate research and development of alternative fuels, carbon-capturing technology for power plants and it would boost the efficiency of many household appliances. It's been called the most responsible environmental legislation to come out of Washington in years, according to a story in the June 12 Los Angeles Times.