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Cenex Convenience Store in Detroit Lakes is the only gas station in the city to sell E85 fuel. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association opposes the Clean Car Act that is winding its way through the state legislature because it says that the bill would limit availability of flex fuel vehicles. (Jason Adkins/Record)

Controversy over Clean Car Act continues

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Controversy over Clean Car Act continues
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

DETROIT LAKES - Minnesotans could be saving $250 million in gas from now until 2020 if the state legislature approved the Clean Car Act that is winding its way through the Capitol, according to Environment Minnesota.

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According to an Environment Minnesota report breaking down county-by-county savings, Becker County drivers will save over $2 million in gas over the next 11 years, based on a $1.74 per gallon price of regular unleaded.

Higher gas prices would yield greater savings.

The Clear Car Act will toughen auto emission standards from federal levels and tie it into California's emissions requirements. If passed, the emission standards would start with new 2013 models.

Under the bill, the California Air Resources Board, an 11-member body appointed by the governor of California, would set Minnesota's emission's standard.

The bill would be phased in and eventually lead to a 30 percent reduction in emissions, according to Environment Minnesota.

The legislation recently passed a Senate Energy and Resources Committee by an 8 to 3 vote.

The bill was defeated last year in the Senate's Business, Jobs and Industry Committee.

Eleven other states have followed California's lead in adopting that state's standards. In addition to Minnesota, four other states are considering requiring California's stricter regulations.

State Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), whose District 2 covers most of Becker County, has opposed the Clean Car Act in the past. According to Minnpost.com, he doesn't want to cede the authority to regulate auto emissions to California.

Skoe did not respond to phone and e-mail interview requests.

The effects of the law could be moot, as the federal Environmental Protection Agency has blocked California's efforts to curb tailpipe emissions by 30 percent. In response, California and 16 other states, including Minnesota, filed a lawsuit seeking to preserve a state's authority to set their own emissions guidelines.

Despite any delays of implanting the bill, Environment Minnesota advocate Monique Sullivan said that the sooner tougher emissions guidelines can be placed on the books, the better it would be.

She added that the new presidential administration is supportive of tougher state standards as well.

"The Obama administration has given a big green light to move forward with the new standards," Sullivan said.

California has had the ability to set its own tougher guidelines in the past, with other states being able to adopt California's standards.

A coalition of the auto industry and the Minnesota Corn Growers association opposes the plan, though.

Those groups oppose it for various reasons. The car industry claims that new regulations are too expensive to implement.

The Minnesota Corn Grower's Association said that the new standards would hurt its members, whose corn provides a good chunk of the ethanol that runs flex fuel cars. Flex fuel cars can either run on gasoline or E85 fuel, an 85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline blend.

That rationale is based on the lack of availability of flex fuel cars in several states that have adopted Low Emission Vehicles (LEV) II standards. According to Chrysler's Web site, its flex fuel vehicles aren't available in several states with LEV II standards.

Other carmakers, though, including Ford and General Motors, have flex fuel models for sale in LEV II states.

Sullivan said that despite some flex fuel cars not being on the market in several states, there are still plenty of options for flex fuel vehicles.

"If you look across multiple manufacturers, most are available," Sullivan said.

Mark Hamerlink, communications director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said that the bill would be bad on several levels for the state.

"People in Minnesota would give up their rights to a non-elected 11-person board," he said.

Besides that, he said that the measure wouldn't do much to help clean the air in the state.

"There is no need to rush into something where you don't know what the end result would be," Hamerlink said.

That end result could be a lack of access to flex fuel vehicles that his group helps fuel, as corn is the primary source of ethanol in the U.S.

Minnesota has the highest number of E85 (an 85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline) stations in the country, with nearly 400 stations out of 2,000 nationwide.

In Becker County, there are two E85 stations, one at the Cenex in Detroit Lakes and the other at the Cenex in Lake Park. The closest E85 stations otherwise are in Vergas and Perham.

While the Clean Car Act focuses on gasoline-powered vehicles, it doesn't preclude the move to alternatively fueled cars.

Sullivan said that each goal is worthwhile, but that emissions reduction is still needed.

"The foremost goal is to reduce emissions," Sullivan said. "The side effects would provide incentives for other fuels."

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