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Effects of ‘Clean Cars’ bill argued in House panel

In pitching its opposition to “Clean Cars” bills at the Minnesota Legislature, the Corn Growers Association says the bill would dampen demand for corn ethanol. To make its point the group says that many “flex-fuel” cars and trucks — capable of burning ethanol blends up to 85 percent in gasoline — could not be sold in the state if the bill becomes law.

That’s not, however, what Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, discovered when he made calls to auto dealers in states that already have adopted a law similar to the one being considered here.

In a report widely circulated to legislators, the Corn Growers said that 18 flex-fuel and biodiesel cars and trucks are no longer available in California because of that state’s Clean Cars rules, which are stricter than national standards. California became the first sate to adopt the rules, and since then 13 other states have gone along.

Welti, who said that he grew up on a dairy farm in Southeastern Minnesota and as a youth worked in the Corn Growers booth at his county fair, made six calls to randomly selected auto dealers in California and two that have adopted the rules, New York and Pennsylvania. In each case, Welti asked if the vehicles that the Corn Growers said are not available were in fact available and being sold. A representative of the Corn Growers was at the witness table when Welti announced his finding before the House Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division, and could offer no explanation why the vehicles were in fact available.

Earlier, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy did some digging of its own and found that 96 flex-fuel and biodiesel vehicles are available in California.

The Clean Cars bill by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, was later approved by the committee on a 9-6 vote. It faces several stops in the House before making it to the floor, but last year all House committees approved it.

A companion measure by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, faces tougher sledding in the Senate.

At the House hearing, the auto industry, some members of the ethanol industry, and two farm groups — the Corn Growers and the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation — opposed the bill.

Last year, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 56-member Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group supported the Clean Cars legislation.

The Corn Growers report is described in a press release by the Shakopee-based organization. Copies are available through the association’s public affairs director Mark Hamerlinck.

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