Auto-emission limits run out of gas

Bills to impose new limits on automotive emissions traveled a rocky road in the 2008 Minnesota Legislature as advocates hoped that Minnesota would become the 14th state to adopt air standards established by the California Air Resources Board that are more stringent than those of the federal government. 

On Thursday the measures ran out of gas when five DFLers on a Senate committee teamed with as many Republicans to kill a measure by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. Throughout the session, another unlikely team — auto dealers, automakers and their associated labor unions, together with the ethanol industry — created enough uncertainty over the bill’s effects to make senators skittish. 

But there appeared to be enough support for the legislation to encourage its backers. Had the bills gotten floor votes, supporters believe that the House and Senate would have passed them.

“We’ll be back next year,” Marty said after the Senate’s Business, Jobs and Industry Committee — where the bill had been bottled up for the last month — voted 10-7 against the measure. Among DFLers voting “no” were committee chairman James Metzen of South St. Paul and someone who has expressed interest in running for governor — Tom Bakk of Cook, Minn.   

Some legislators continued to wonder why ethanol producers joined in unlikely alliance with the auto industry to oppose the legislation. 

“You’re in the weeds on this,” Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, sternly told representatives of the Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Ethanol Producers. Skoe, who voted against the measure because he with uneasy with linking Minnesota’s air regulations to those first approved in California, said that any legislation to make car engines burn cleaner would have to rely on ethanol. 

At a recent House hearing on a companion bill by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, another rural legislator — Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton — openly criticized ethanol producers because, he said, they formed an alliance with automakers even though the auto industry opposed ethanol expansion a few years ago. 

In addition to the Corn Growers, a key opponent of the bill was the Minnesota Farm Bureau. The Minnesota Farmers Union originally opposed the bill, but it switched to support the measure after authors amended it to ease concerns over the effects on trucks and ethanol.   

Bill supporters say that more restrictive controls on auto emissions are needed to help Minnesota meet ambitious goals of the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which established interim benchmarks in reducing carbon emissions linked to climate change. By 2050, the goal is to cut carbon emissions 80 percent from 2050. Carbon from auto tailpipes account for a quarter of greenhouse emissions from all sources in the state.

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