Sports utility vehicles, vans, and pickup trucks will be subject to slightly more stringent fuel-economy standards under a new rule released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Beginning in the 2007 model year, auto manufacturers will have to attain a fleet average of 22.2 miles per gallon for those vehicles, together classified as “light trucks.” That’s just 1.5 mpg more than the current standard, and still well below the 27.5 mpg requirement for cars. Critics of the new rule say it merely reflects what automakers were planning to do anyway, but the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defended the rule as the first fuel-economy improvement since the mid-1990s and evidence that the Bush administration “is committed to improving vehicle fuel economy while protecting passenger safety and American jobs.” Environmentalists pooh-poohed that claim and criticized the White House for missing an opportunity to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil.