The Bush administration is considering a proposal to require sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks sold in the United States to achieve higher rates of fuel efficiency, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The move would be the first increase in such government-mandated targets since 1996, the WSJ noted.

The WSJ said top regulatory officials are reviewing a proposal drafted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to raise standards by roughly half a mile a gallon each year in the 2005-2007 model years — or a total of 1.5 miles a gallon by 2007.

According to the WSJ, although it remains in draft form and could be drastically rewritten, it is likely to encounter strong resistance from automakers, officials familiar with the plans said.

One of the officials told the WSJ the agency has based its plan on data submitted by Detroit’s Big Three automakers themselves.

The WSJ said the agency is required by law to annually set federal fuel-economy standards for light trucks, and officials began looking anew at current rules when Congress began debating a comprehensive national energy policy earlier this year.

Under the law, the WSJ said, if NHTSA proposes an increase in fuel-economy standards, it must give automakers at least 18 months to make design changes so, for 2005-model year vehicles, that means the agency would have to issue its proposal by April 1.