MINNEAPOLIS — Late last week, U.S. Bank announced that it has created a new auto loan program that offers a half-percent rate reduction on loans new and used models certified by the EPA as environmentally friendly SmartWay vehicles.

Officials boasted that their company is the first major bank in the United States to offer this type of loan.

The EPA SmartWay designation identifies vehicles that offer low emissions and good fuel economy. A list of these vehicles can be found on the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide at epa.gov/greenvehicles.

By offering this discount on SmartWay designated vehicles, U.S. Bank can reward customers who want to have more positive impact on the environment but don't want to restrict their purchase to a hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicle, according to executives.

Approximately 16 percent of all 2009 vehicles are SmartWay and can be identified by the special designation on the vehicle sticker.

"Including EPA-certified SmartWay vehicles in programs like this is a great way to lower greenhouse gas emissions," said Margo Oge, director of EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality. "We applaud companies that develop initiatives that benefit both the consumer and the environment."

Lisa O'Brien, director of environmental affairs at U.S. Bank, said, "U.S. Bank had taken great strides in adopting and promoting environmentally friendly business practices among its employees and customers, with everything from encouraging electronic transactions to finding new ways to support green habits such as offering this discount on loans for environmentally friendly vehicles."

To further its commitment to environmentally friendly business practices, these loans will be set up on automatic payment from a U.S. Bank account and no paper statements will be generated. The program is available on new and used cars (up to six years old).