Michigan Democratic House Representative John Dingell plans to introduce a bill that would encourage the sale of diesel cars in the United States, a prospect strongly supported by the car industry but opposed by environmental groups, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

The newspaper said that despite the fact that today’s diesel engines are much cleaner than those sold in the US in the 1970s, and their acceptance in Europe, US regulations have restricted diesel engines to fewer than 1% percent of new light-duty vehicles and Volkswagen is currently the only company selling diesel passenger cars there.

The New York Times said that GM vice chairman Bob Lutz last month told a car industry conference: “We should get diesels in the mix because it’s one way we could get 10 to 15% fuel economy improvement while keeping the size mix that we have.”

The NYT said that Dingell is the longest-serving member of the House and a staunch ally of the Big Three car makers whose spokeswoman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Laura Sheehan, said that the bill was still being drafted but that “the goal of the legislation would be to enable this technology to have widespread clean-diesel usage.”

According to the newspaper, she said it would involve tax credits for oil companies that produced diesel fuel with low sulphur content and possibly some incentives for the car industry.

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The NYT said the industry has previously lobbied for tax credits for consumers who buy cars with advanced diesel engines.

The New York Times said that the more fuel efficient diesels can cut emissions of carbon dioxide which are linked to fuel consumption but also have much higher emissions of particulates, or soot — which can worsen asthma, according to some studies, and lead to cancer. They also emit more nitrogen oxide, a contributor to smog.

The newspaper said a new set of regulations related to the Clean Air Act will restrict these emissions, but even the new rules will allow diesel engines to emit more than twice the quantity of particulates of a petrol-powered engine.

But the New York Times said that developing a way to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide will be the motor industry’s biggest challenge.

The NYT says US environmental groups oppose wider use of diesel-powered vehicles and that one prominent group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, is preparing a report that is sceptical of improvements made in diesel technology which also contends that diesels emit 40 chemical compounds that lead to various cancers, birth defects and other health problems.

The NYT said that European standards are not so strict on emissions from diesel engines, and environmentalists in Europe have not been as strongly opposed.

A Sierra Club spokesman told the New York Times that hybrid cars offered a technology that could also provide greater fuel efficiency without increased particulate or nitrogen oxide emissions.