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House Dem Offers Fuel Efficiency Alternatives

Congressman Edward Markey modifies his fuel efficiency proposal to give the auto industry more time.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A key House Democrat offered a series of changes Thursday to his plan to boost fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles before next week's expected vote on an energy bill.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., began circulating a series of modifications to his proposal that would give the auto industry more time to boost fuel economy standards. The changes are aimed at making his measure closer to a version approved last month by the Senate and garnering enough support to be included in the House energy bill.

The auto industry has opposed Markey's plan, which would require vehicles to meet 35 miles per gallon by 2018. The Senate has already approved an energy bill that would require the industry to reach 35 mpg by 2020.

Under the changes, Markey's approach would require the fleet of new vehicles to reach 35 mpg one year later, by 2019. Auto manufacturers also would need to comply with an attribute-based standard, based on the vehicle's size, similar to provisions included in the Senate bill.

''We think we can retain the support we have and build on it,'' said Markey spokeswoman Jessica Schafer. She said the changes were devised to ''strengthen our support and move us closer to the Senate position as we prepare for both House and conference action.''

Other changes listed in a 1-page synopsis obtained by The Associated Press include an exemption for large work trucks, requiring the Department of Transportation to set specific annual fuel economy benchmarks from 2013 through 2019 and the elimination of required 4 percent annual increases after 2019.

Automakers such as General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have supported a plan by Reps. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., that would require cars and trucks to meet efficiency rules of 32 to 35 miles per gallon by 2022.

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said his trade group had not reviewed the proposed changes to Markey's bill but called the Hill-Terry proposal ''a good balancing of an aggressive set of standards that are also achievable.''

The auto industry, manufacturers and environmental groups have waged an intense lobbying effort on the issue, which could lead to Congress voting to increase fuel economy standards for the first time in three decades.

On Thursday, The Level Field Institute, a group with ties to the auto industry, launched new advertising supporting the Hill-Terry bill. Jim Doyle, the group's president, cautioned that the Senate measure would likely lead to domestic small car production being moved overseas and undermine the development of flexible-fuel vehicles capable of running on ethanol blends.

The House is expected to vote on an energy bill that does not currently include CAFE standards, but new requirements could be added to the measure. Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said the speaker had ''not ruled anything out'' on the energy bill.

Environmentalists said the changes could help Markey secure enough support for his fuel economy plan. ''This gets us a winning vote with an ample margin of safety,'' said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming program.

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