Targeting more federal money to support the auto industry, the House on Wednesday approved an expansion of government-led research into making cars and trucks more fuel-efficient.
The House plan would allow the Energy Department to spend up to $200 million more each year on research and development for advanced-technology vehicles and auto parts. Lawmakers' aides said the additional $200 million would boost government-supported research in this area to around $550 million if Congress, as expected, funds the request later this year.
The bill would authorize $2.9 billion to the Energy Department to boost the research over five years.
It would push the government to team up with companies and universities to conduct research on technologies such as batteries for hybrid vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells. Columbia and the University of South Carolina are working to make the region a hydrogen fuel-cell research hub.
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The legislation also would create a research program for advanced technologies for medium- to heavy-duty commercial trucks and transit vehicles, while specifying that the government should partner with a diverse group of companies, non-governmental organizations and academic groups, including those which have not previously worked on government-sponsored research and development.
The measure passed on a 312-114 vote, attracting dozens of Republican votes although some GOP lawmakers questioned its cost.
Wednesday's House action represented the latest move by Congress and the Obama administration to aid the auto industry. The White House stepped in with billions of dollars to rescue General Motors and Chrysler and led the companies through bankruptcy, and Congress approved $25 billion last year to help the industry retool assembly plants to meet tougher fuel economy standards.
Congress also created a $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program of incentives that successfully spurred new car sales over the summer.
Administration officials on Tuesday released plans to raise the gas mileage standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and link greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy requirements.
The plan's cost concerned some Republicans. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., wanted to freeze the potential funding amounts through 2013 and cut funding in 2014 but his plan was defeated. Broun noted that Congress was already spending billions of dollars to help the auto industry.