WASHINGTON -- Senators reached agreement today on a proposal to increase automobile fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon, the first significant boost demanded of automakers in nearly 20 years.
The agreement, expected to be announced at a news conference, would scale back a proposal already in the Senate's energy bill but still was considered strong enough to have wide support from environmentalists.
The compromise aimed to head off attempts by senators sympathetic to the auto industry from pressing a less stringent proposal. Supporters said they had the 60 votes needed to prevent opponents from blocking it.
Earlier today, Senate Democrats fell three votes short of the 60 they needed to advanced a tax package that would have levied $29 billion in new taxes on the oil industry to pay for development of renewable fuels and clean energy programs.
Automakers are currently required to meet an average of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks. The car standard has not changed since 1989, though the truck requirements have been increased slightly by the Bush administration.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., it was important that some version of the mileage increase be included in the broader energy bill, even if the requirements on automakers were eased a bit under the compromise.
"I can live with either one of them," Reid told reporters, referring to the provision already in the bill and the compromise.
It wasn't immediately clear when Reid would bring the issue up for floor debate.
The revised proposal was crafted in private discussions over several days by a handful of Republican and Democratic senators. Among them were Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska and Democrats. Dianne Feinstein of California, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.
Key to the discussions was a view among senators that a proposed requirement that automakers increase mileage by an additional 4 percent per year after 2020 was unacceptable to the auto industry and could not get enough support in the Senate.
The compromise eliminated that 4 percent mandate.
Another group of senators, including Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, have pressed for a less stringent proposal supported by automakers that would allow SUVs and small trucks to achieve 30 mpg and also postpone the mandate to 2025.
It was not immediately clear whether the Levin group would now abandon that effort.
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