Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


‘Clean Cars’ opponent switches sides

A critical opponent of “California Clean Cars” bills in the Legislature has announced that it now supports the measures after receiving assurances from House author Rep.

A critical opponent of “California Clean Cars” bills in the Legislature has announced that it now supports the measures after receiving assurances from House author Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, that she will amend her bill in ways to make it more favorable to ethanol advocates.

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU), one of four agricultural groups that joined the automobile lobby in successfully stalling the Clean Cars bills, announced yesterday that it is switching its position.

Moreover, MFU lobbyist Thom Petersen is personally assuring rural legislators that ethanol interests are being protected in the bills. Petersen said he’s optimistic that the House measure will now resume its path to floor votes.

Hortman said that she will meet tomorrow with the remaining agriculture opponents, including the Farm Bureau, the Agri-Growth Council, and the Corn Growers Association, in a last-ditch attempt to explain how the latest bill changes should address their remaining concerns.

Effects on ethanol consumption would be assessed
Hortman told the MFU that her bill will be changed to require annual assessments of how ethanol consumption is affected in 13 states that already have adopted California’s car emissions standards, which are tougher than those of the federal government. Under the legislation, Minnesota would be linked to the California standards and require stringent fuel-economy rules by 2012. 

“If we find that ethanol usage suffers, we can amend our law,” Hortman said, adding that no one familiar with the standards expects that ethanol consumption will be affected. California officials earlier testified before a legislative hearing that it is moving ahead with plans to expand ethanol use, something that is stubbornly doubted by ethanol advocates. 

Hortman and the Senate author of the bill, DFLer John Marty of Roseville, have been frustrated by the surprise opposition to their bills by ethanol advocates. At a joint hearing last week, some senators were openly critical of the ethanol industry for joining the auto industry in opposing the Clean Car bills.

One was Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, who noted that auto interests have previously fought ethanol interests in Minnesota and elsewhere as the renewable-fuels industry was gaining and providing an expanded market for corn.

Opposition is weakening
With MFU’s changed position, the opposition is clearly weakening. It’s now considered likely that Hortman’s bill will be approved next week in the House Finance Committee and sent to the floor. If that happens, bill proponents are hopeful that Marty’s bill will be moved out of the Business and Jobs Committee and sent to Rules before moving on to the floor. 

MFU’s Petersen said that farmers are concerned about high fuel costs as well as low mileage of passenger cars and small trucks.

“Gas prices are already high, and it makes sense to move ahead with legislation to address that before prices get any higher,” Peterson said.

Hortman’s overtures to rural interests clearly have been noticed at the Capitol, and she’s credited with bringing contentious sides together to drive the issue to a positive result. Hortman credits effective lobbying work by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, chiefly by lobbyists Molly Schultz and John Thuma, and by MEP’s director Steve Morse. Thuma is a former Republican legislator and Morse a DFLer.