Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the top US government regulator of the automotive industry said on Tuesday that he would support higher fuel economy standards beyond the 1.5-mile-per-gallon increase set to go into effect by 2007, according to Reuters.

“We can do better,” Runge said in an interview with Reuters, adding: “The overriding goal here is better fuel economy to decrease our reliance on foreign oil without compromising safety or American jobs. The president’s energy plan certainly makes it clear it’s a national security issue as well as an issue of American commerce.”

Reuters said that NHTSA’s proposal would raise the average fuel economy standard for a vehicle maker’s pickups, sport utility vehicles and minivans from 20.7 mpg now to 22.2 mpg in 2007. NHTSA’s analysis found that General Motors would have the toughest task meeting the new rules, while Ford and DaimlerChrysler would meet or be just below the standard, Reuters added.

Runge told Reuters he had asked car industry leaders for data on how the industry could improve fuel economy beyond 2007 and whether any NHTSA regulations were slowing fuel economy improvements.

According to Reuters, he also said the agency was aware of car makers’ complaints that safety regulations were adding weight to vehicles and lowering fuel economy, but said improved safety should not be an impediment to better fuel economy.