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Bush Calls For Better Gas Mileage

President Bush visits a gas station in in Biloxi, Miss. Thursday, April 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Photo/Gerald Herbert
The Bush administration asked Congress on Thursday to give it the authority raise fuel economy standards on all passenger cars amid rising gas prices and growing concerns about the nation's energy security.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta wrote House and Senate leaders asking for Congress to — for the first time — allow it to create a similar program it recently completed for pickup, sport utility vehicles and vans.

"Along with other previously announced energy policies, the president believes these actions are critical to promoting our nation's energy security and independence," Mineta wrote.

Mineta said increasing standards under the current system "would increase fatalities on America's highways, raise healthcare costs and reduce employment. As a result, the administration would oppose any increase in passenger car CAFE standards without corresponding reform."

In Biloxi, Miss., President Bush noted Congress was debating several energy-related concepts, "and one idea is to give me a capacity to raise CAFE standards on automobiles.

"I encourage them to give me that authority. It's authority that I used for light trucks. And I intend to use it wisely if Congress would give me that authority," Mr. Bush said.

Last month, the government set tighter gas mileage rules for pickups, SUVs and vans covering the 2008-2011 model years. The program would save 10.7 billion gallons of fuel over the lifetime of the vehicles sold during that period.

Any deliberations over changing gas mileage standards are watched intensely by the auto industry, which must meet the standards in their fleet of vehicles.

Sherrie Childers-Arb, a spokesman for General Motors Corp., said "if changes are made we want to be sure that this program is designed in the fairest way possible for all auto manufacturers."

Mr. Bush's call comes the same day that Exxon Mobil reported an $8.4 billion profit one day after ConocoPhillips said it cleared $3.29 billion — leaving law makers to appease an anxious public.

It also comes as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that rising energy prices jeopardize a currently strong economy and left the door open to the possibility of another interest rate increase to keep inflation in check.

In response, Senate Republicans advocate sending $100 rebate checks to millions of taxpayers, and a Democrat is leading the campaign for a 60-day gasoline tax holiday.

Travelers are feeling rising oil prices at the travel agent as well as at the pump as airlines increasingly feel the pinch of rising fuel prices.

Air travelers have been hit with 22 separate price hikes in just over a year raising fares — on average — by at least 10 percent, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

For example, a flight from Chicago to LA, which cost about $200 last July, now costs $260.

"Jet fuel and its impact on the airline business is now greater than the impact that 9-11 had on the airline business," Darryl Jenkins an airline industry analyst, told Orr.

Passengers are being pinched in every possible way — smaller planes, increasingly crowded flights, and no. Frequent flier tickets are nearly impossible to find and forget about bargains, reports Orr.

Airlines have already eliminated 200,000 jobs to cut labor costs. But, the oil spike has wiped out those savings. Now, airlines are taking extraordinary steps to reduce fuel consumption, Orr reports.

Jet Blue and America West are flying at slower speeds. Southwest has added life vests to allow pilots to fly more direct routes over water. And airlines are eliminating phones, ovens, even extra drinking water to reduce the weight of planes.