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Key House members have agreed on a cash-for-clunkers plan intended to spark sales of newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles by giving buyers up to $4,500 for retiring older-model gas guzzlers.

The agreement by Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee indicates legislation should move ahead to create the program.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who attended with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman of California, called the plan “critically important and sensibly balanced.”

It could help replace as many as 1 million vehicles, though that’s a fraction of the 250 million or more on the road in the United States.

There are no specific incentives for buying vehicles made by Detroit’s Big Three. But provisions that encourage the swaps on older vehicles, specifically SUVs and trucks, should help U.S. manufacturers because they dominate that market.

People who drive passenger cars that get less than 18 mpg (based on the EPA’s combined city/highway window sticker number) would have to buy a new vehicle getting at least 22 mpg to be eligible for a voucher toward the new car.

If the new car’s mileage rating is at least 4 mpg higher than that of the old vehicle, the buyer would get a voucher for $3,500 toward the price of the new car. If the new car’s mileage is at least 10 mpg higher than the old vehicle’s, the voucher would be worth $4,500.

There would be incentives for small trucks, SUVs, large light-duty trucks and work trucks.

For small trucks and SUVs, the old vehicle must get less than 18 mpg and the new at least 18 mpg. If the new vehicle’s mileage is at least 2 mpg more than the old, the voucher is $3,500; if it’s 5 mpg more or higher, the voucher would be worth $4,500.

For large light-duty trucks, the old vehicle must get less than 18 mpg – though new large trucks getting at least 15 mpg are eligible for vouchers. If the new truck is at least 1 mpg more efficient than the old, the voucher is worth $3,500; if 2 mpg or more, the voucher is worth $4,500.

Finally, buyers would be able to trade in any pre-2002 work truck – defined as a pickup or cargo van weighing from 8,500 to 10,000 pounds – and receive a voucher worth $3,500 for a new work truck in the same or smaller weight class.

Detroit Free Press