U.S. intends to meet auto fuel rule: DOT nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration intends to follow congressional orders and finalize sharply higher auto fuel efficiency standards by this spring, Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood said on Wednesday.

“President Obama, as you know is very strong in this area and has spoken out on it,” LaHood told Senate Commerce Committee members at his confirmation hearing.

LaHood, one of two Republicans selected by Obama for his Cabinet, said the agency would meet the standard for 2011-2015, and he would do everything possible, if confirmed, to finish the regulation by the April deadline set by Congress in the 2007 energy law.

The Bush administration sought to finish the fuel efficiency regulation by December but took no action due to the uncertain financial prospects of U.S. automakers.

The Bush administration had authorized a 25 percent increase in fuel efficiency of U.S. cars and trucks to an average 32 miles per gallon by 2015.

The cost of the five-year increase to industry, according to government and industry figures, is estimated at $40 billion, with domestic automakers expected to shoulder much of that cost since they make the least fuel efficient vehicles.

The energy law mandates the U.S. fleet average 35 mpg by 2020.

LaHood’s nomination was sent to the Senate floor, where key lawmakers expect quick confirmation.

Reporting by John Crawley