NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The Environmental Protection Agency is sitting on a report showing a decline in fuel economy for U.S. autos while Congress prepares to vote on energy legislation that does little to mandate automakers to improve fuel efficiency, according to a published report Thursday.
The New York Times said the report on fuel economy was supposed to be released Wednesday, but late Tuesday night the EPA decided to delay the release until next week. Congress could vote on the administration-backed energy bill this week. (Click here to see CNN.com's coverage of the energy bill).
But the Times reports that it got an copy of the report late Tuesday just before the EPA changed its mind on the release date. It said that it shows the average 2004 model car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6 percent less than the 22.1 mpg of the average new vehicle sold in the late 1980's.
And the paper said that major improvements in engine technology over the last couple of decades have been mostly used to make cars faster, not more fuel-efficient.
The fuel efficiency has also been hurt by the increasing popularity of sport/utility vehicles and pickup trucks. Light trucks now make up a majority of U.S. new vehicle sales.
The EPA denied the report was delayed due to the legislation pending before Congress.
"We are committed to sharing our scientific studies with the public in the most comprehensive and understandable format possible," EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher told the paper. "Issue experts are reviewing the fuel economy data and we look forward to providing a summary of the information next week."
The paper said the report's executive summary says that "fuel economy is directly related to energy security," because consumer cars and trucks account for about 40 percent of the nation's oil consumption. The current version of the energy bill largely ignores auto mileage regulations, according to the Times report.
"Something's fishy when the Bush administration delays a report showing no improvement in fuel economy until after passage of their energy bill, which fails to improve fuel economy," said Daniel Becker, the Sierra Club's top global warming strategist, told the Times.
The Times reports that of the eight major automakers examined in the report, only General Motors (Research), Toyota (Research) and Honda (Research) showed increases in fuel efficiency in the 2004 model year, the most recent year for which hard sales data is available. Ford Motor Co. (Research) had the lowest mileage of the group, and the sharpest drops in fuel efficiency came at Nissan, Hyundai and Volkswagen.
Nissan told the Times the drop was because of the introduction of its full-sized pickup truck, the Titan, while Hyundai told the paper its mileage was hurt by increasing its SUV offerings. The paper did not have a comment from VW.
For a special report on the 2005 oil crunch, click here.
For more news on autos and automakers, click here.