The Bush administration has said it will ask Congress for money to study whether to toughen federal fuel economy standards for sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans, but it hinted that it supports no more than the kinds of incremental increases being pushed by the Big Three U.S. auto makers, according to a Wall Street Journal story by Jeffrey Ball. In a letter Feb. 1 to congressional leaders, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the administration's fiscal 2003 budget request will ask for $1 million for the department to study a possible increase in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards starting with the 2005 auto model year. Automakers would be forced to boost fuel economy by more than 50 percent over 12 years under a separate plan brewing in the Senate. Environmentalists have criticized the Bush plan - which includes the buying and selling of fuel-economy credits among manufacturers - as an effort to stymie significant improvements in fuel economy. Analysts see these developments as the beginning of a long and bitter legislative battle that will influence the size, weight and technology of autos for years to come. The Senate plan, under the leadership of Sen. John. Kerry (D-Mass.), would boost automakers' fleet fuel economy average to 37 mpg by the 2014 model year. The Kerry plan would require makers to improve car and truck CAFE by 5 percent by 2005. It would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to adopt rules phasing in the 37-mpg rule from 2006 to 2014. Current new cars and trucks average about 24 mpg. The standards are 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks.