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WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed a broad energy bill last week that would, among other things, require the first big increase in fuel mileage requirements for passenger cars in more than two decades, The New York Times reported.
The vote, 65 to 27, was a major defeat for car manufacturers who had fought for a much smaller increase in fuel economy standards, and are expected to keep fighting as the House takes up the energy legislation, likely to happen later this summer.
If the Senate bill becomes law, car manufacturers would have to increase the average mileage of new cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, compared with roughly 25 miles per gallon today. The car companies had lobbied ferociously for a much weaker requirement of 30 miles per gallon for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles.
Environmental groups hailed the vote as a long-sought victory that could eventually reduce American gas consumption by more than 1 million gallons a day.
In a victory for the oil industry, Republican lawmakers successfully blocked a crucial component of the Democratic plan that would have raised taxes on oil companies by about $32 billion, and used the money on tax breaks for wind power, solar power, ethanol and other renewable fuels, according to the Times report.
Republican opponents argued that tax increases on oil companies would reduce exploration for oil and lead to higher prices on gasoline.
Senate Democrats had to settle for a bill that calls for a vast expansion of renewable fuels over the next decade -- to 36 billion gallons a year of alternatives to gasoline.
The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), the nation's largest ethanol association with nearly 2,000 grassroots members, praised the Senate for the ethanol provisions passed.
"A 36-billion gallon RFS is a visionary step forward for American energy independence, building upon the success of the homegrown U.S. ethanol industry today and securing a larger role for ethanol tomorrow," said Brian Jennings, ACE executive vice president.
Democrats conceded that they had had won only a partial victory, but said they would have additional opportunities to push their agenda when the House takes up similar legislation, with the goal of passing it before the Fourth of July recess.
"This bill starts America on a path toward reducing our reliance on oil by increasing the nation's use of renewable fuels," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.