Expect the U.S. Senate to reverse anti-regulatory momentum generated by House passage early in August of a Bush administration energy bill that rejects imposing tougher federal automobile fuel-economy standards — despite growing populist support for such legislation.

So says Alan T. Crane, project officer for the National Academies of Sciences' (NAS) contentious study of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program.

“The Senate almost definitely will do something,” Mr. Crane tells WAW. “I think they're taking a much harder look at it than the House did. We (the NAS) really came in near the end of the House deliberations.”

An NAS committee's report on CAFE says the much-maligned program not only has merit, it should be strengthened by eliminating the two-tiered standard that essentially ignores the emergence of light trucks and sport/utility vehicles (SUVs) as personal transportation. Other recommendations include requiring all vehicles to improve their fuel economy rates by as much as 30% within the next 13 years.

“The increase in standards that the House proposed is really pretty small,” Mr. Crane says, referring to the approved House bill's requirement that rules be implemented to reduce the total U.S. fleet's gasoline consumption by 5 billion gallons before 2011.

“I think the Senate has quite a bit more interest in going further. And I think they're going to have a lot more interest — at least they've expressed it so far.”

The bill's passage prompted widespread celebration among CAFE opponents. The American International Automobile Dealers Association (AIADA) calls it “a strong and bipartisan win for the industry.”

Adds Josephine S. Cooper, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers: “This was a pro-consumer vote.”