updated 2/13/2008 7:03:38 PM ET 2008-02-14T00:03:38

The Bush administration plans to defend its new fuel efficiency requirements for most sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans after a federal appeals court rejected the plan last year.

The Justice Department, in a petition filed last week, asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for a rehearing before the full court on the proposed fuel economy plan.

Ronald Tenpas, head of the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division, wrote in the petition that the review was needed to resolve a split among the courts over similar cases.

In November, the appeals court ordered federal regulators to develop a new plan with tougher pollution standards. The court said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to address why the so-called light trucks are allowed to pollute more than passenger cars and did not properly assess the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when it set the new minimum miles-per-gallon rules for 2008-2011 vehicles.

Judge Betty Fletcher noted that while it lacked an estimate of how it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it did include an analysis on the employment and sales impact of tougher standards on automakers.

She wrote that the administration "cannot put a thumb on the scale by undervaluing the benefits and overvaluing the costs of more stringent standards."

The standards required most passenger trucks to boost fuel economy from 22.5 mpg in 2008 to at least 23.5 mpg by 2010.

Passenger cars are required to meet a 27.5 mpg average, but Congress approved an upgrade to the rules in December, demanding that the overall fleet average increase from 25 mpg to 35 mpg by 2020. The new rules have not yet been developed.

When the light truck rules were announced in March 2006, then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called them the "most ambitious fuel economy goals" yet for the large vehicles and said they balanced the conservation of fuel with auto industry costs and jobs.

But California and 10 other states, two cities and four environmental groups sued the administration, contending the 1 mpg increase was minuscule and failed to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In an interview, California Attorney General Jerry Brown called it "a frivolous appeal" that was "intended for delay, to help the automakers to continue for a little longer making unacceptable gas guzzlers."

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the energy bill signed into law last year would set a "clear path to achieve industrywide fuel economy standards of 35 mpg by 2020." He said the industry would work with the government "to ensure that the standard is met."

In its ruling, the appeals court also questioned the administration's decision to leave out trucks weighing more than 8,500 pounds, a class that includes the Hummer H2 and the Ford F250.

The court ordered NHTSA to develop fuel standards for these large trucks or give a better reason than the agency's argument that it never has regulated those large trucks and that more testing needs to be done.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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