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Congress close to raising fuel economy standards

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  • Negotiators close to a deal that would raise fleet fuel economy standards
  • Bill would raise fleet-wide standard to 35 miles per gallon by 2020
  • Large "work trucks" would be exempt from standard
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From Jessica Yellin and Deirdre Walsh
CNN Washington bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress is finalizing a deal that would raise the fuel economy standards for most U.S. cars and trucks for the first time in more than 30 years.

Automakers hope all-electric cars like the Chevy Volt will raise fleet-wide fuel standards.

But the bill also contains several significant loopholes that would allow auto companies to get around the new limits.

The centerpiece of the bill is a requirement that would raise the corporate average fuel economy standard, known as CAFE, from 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 22.2 mpg for trucks to 35 mpg fleet-wide by 2020.

The Senate passed the mandate in June, but the House has not yet voted. Congressional aides familiar with the negotiations said House leaders are hoping to work out final language this week and vote next week.

Large "work trucks" like the Dodge Ram 3500, the Ford F-350 and the Chevrolet Silverado 3500 would be exempt from the new 35 mpg standard, according to sources involved in the negotiations."

Automakers will get credits to count against their fleet-wide average for selling "flex fuel" cars that are able to use alternative fuels or gasoline. Although U.S. manufacturers have built millions of flex fuel cars, ethanol is actually used in only about 1.5 percent of them, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Most continue to run on gasoline, the group found. Ethanol is not widely available to car owners.

Despite these loopholes, backers of the bill say it brings a significant change that will benefit consumers. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, chairman of the House Select Committee on Global Warming, said in an interview that the higher standard "will be a huge victory. It won't be something, however, that will stop us in the years ahead continuing to look at ways to continue upon that further."

House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Michigan, who has been a key negotiator on the compromise bill and defender of auto industry interests, is pushing for some significant changes to the Senate version.

In an interview Wednesday with a Detroit television station, Dingell said he's supportive of the new standard, but stressed "we've got to do it in a way that doesn't destroy our industry or manufacturing."

Dingell would like to include a provision that would build in job protections for U.S. autoworkers, requiring U.S. auto companies to continue to manufacture a certain percentage of their vehicles in the United States.

Dingell also wants to create separate standards for car and truck fleets.

"We have to address the Senate bill to make sure we don't combine light trucks and automobiles in a way that will destroy them," he said.

According to a recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit environmental group, if the 35 mpg limit was implemented, it would translate into a savings for consumers of $25 billion at the pump in 2020.

The bill will also include a requirement to increase the production of biofuels like ethanol to 36 billion gallons by 2022. According to the Department of Energy, the United States produced 4 billion gallons of biofuels in 2005.

"Our goal is over the next 10 to 15 years [to] see a revolution that results in a dramatic increase in SUVs and automobiles that can use these new fuels and the number of Americans that can use them," Markey said, "so that we can back out more millions of barrels of oil that come from OPEC every day."

Congressional Republicans point out the proposal will do nothing to lower gas prices in the short term. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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