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This is the day that President Obama is expected to announce higher fuel standards for cars. It's the first national vehicle standard designed to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. And though it is a tougher requirement than under current rules, it is in some ways a relief for the auto industry. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: The proposed standards would cut greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and light trucks 30 percent by 2016. They would do so by making vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas.

Mr. DAVE MCCURDY (President, Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers): It would be more than 35 miles per gallon.

SHOGREN: Dave McCurdy is the president of the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers. That would be the average fuel economy target for all vehicles. Cars would have to get 39 miles per gallon, trucks 30. Those new targets would come four years earlier than under current law.

The Obama administration confirmed their requirements, but wouldn't speak on the record. The fuel efficiency goals are on par with a plan that California adopted several years ago and more than a dozen other states have copied.

The auto industry has been fighting those standards in court for several years, and the federal government still has not given the states the approval they need to go ahead. The Obama administration brought the disputing parties together, and after weeks of negotiations, they reached a compromise. McCurdy says the most important thing the auto industry gets out of the deal is a set of uniform rules that apply across the nation.

Mr. MCCURDY: So California will accept the national approach as consistent with their standard so that we don't have a patchwork of different rules and regulations.

SHOGREN: And if everything goes as planned, the auto industry will drop its lawsuits against California and the other states. McCurdy said that it will not be easy for the U.S. auto industry to meet the new standards. It's struggling with its bleakest economic situation in history. But McCurdy said the automakers are ready to build more diesels, hybrids, and plug-in electric vehicles.

Mr. MCCURDY: To us, it's a new beginning. It's an opportunity for a fresh approach as an industry is coming through a major transformation. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil.

SHOGREN: Environmentalists were delighted with the announcement, because it means all cars sold across the nation will use less gasoline and pollute less. Dan Becker is the director of the Safe Climate Campaign.

Mr. DAN BECKER (Director, Safe Climate Campaign): This is the biggest single step we can take to curb global warming. It is the first major effort by the United States to deal with the thing that we do that is most out of whack with the rest of the world, which is run giant behemoths on the road that guzzle gas and pollute the atmosphere.

SHOGREN: David Friedman from the environmental group the Union of Concerned Scientists said that California gets credit for doggedly pushing the auto industry to change.

Mr. DAVID FRIEDMAN (Union of Concerned Scientists): We probably wouldn't even be talking about global warming standards for cars if it weren't for California's landmark 2002 bill requiring standards for cars and trucks.

SHOGREN: California did have to compromise. The federal standards ramp up more slowly than the state had wanted. But Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, says it was a good deal for the planet.

Mr. AARON MCLEAR (Spokesman for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger): In return, we get a national standard in 2016 that will meet our standards. And we'll partner with the federal government to have a national standard that will be a far more powerful affect on our environment than if we were going at it alone.

SHOGREN: California still wants the Environmental Protection Agency to grant it permission to enforce its own greenhouse gas standards until the federal plan kicks in. There's no decision on that yet. Still, Governor Schwarzenegger plans to attend the White House announcement later today.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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