AUTOS:

Mich. lawmakers push for doubling DOE loan program

Michigan House members are pushing to double a $25 billion Energy Department program designed to provide advanced technology retooling loans to U.S. carmakers and parts suppliers.

Democrats John Dingell and Sander Levin and Republican Fred Upton introduced legislation yesterday to increase the loan program to $50 billion.

Democrats Bart Stupak and Dale Kildee and Republican Candice Miller are among 30 co-sponsors of the bill.

The program was established in the 2007 energy bill to provide loans to automakers and suppliers to retool in order to make advanced efficient vehicles to meet new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards. But Congress did not provide the federal funds to back the loans until late last year as Washington scrambled to throw a lifeline to the battered U.S auto industry.

Levin, Dingell and other auto state lawmakers have long suggested the DOE pot should be increased. Dingell renewed his calls during last week's House debate on sweeping energy and climate legislation.

DOE officials have said they are still reviewing the loan application for both the applicants' financial viability and the technical feasibility of their projects. By law, the loans can only be issued to companies that are expected to be able to repay them and for projects that provide a minimum fuel economy increase of 25 percent over 2005 models.

DOE officials hope to begin handing out the first batch of loans early this summer but say the process has been slowed down by an unexpectedly large amount of applicants.

The agency says the total amount of federal cash requested through the program has already exceeded the $25 billion mark.

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