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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Suit challenges beef processor

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ST. PAUL - Attorneys general of 13 states and the federal government are suing to block a merger to form the country's biggest beef processor.

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At issue is the acquisition of National Beef Packing Co. by what already is the world's largest beef processor, JBS Beef of Brazil.

"Preserving competition among beef processors is important for both consumers and farmers," Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said. "Consolidation in the agricultural markets often comes at the expense of consumers and smaller farming operations, and the merger ought to be stopped."

JBS already is taking over Smithfield Beef, which would make it the second-largest American beef packer. If the courts allow it to buy National Beef, JBS would process about a third of U.S. fed cattle, Swanson's office reported.

The lawsuit alleges that the acquisition of National Beef by JBS would violate a federal antitrust law. The attorneys general say if the merger is approved, that JBS, Tyson and Cargill would control more than 80 percent of the country's beef processing capacity.

Besides federal and Minnesota officials, joining the lawsuit are attorneys general from Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

New rail?

Minnesota officials have met with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to discuss proposed high-speed rail service between St. Paul and Chicago.

If it comes around, along with several rail lines proposed from the Twin Cities to Minnesota communities as far away as Duluth, it would establish a rail network providing a new form of transportation from rural areas to Chicago.

The proposed Chicago rail line would go through Madison and Milwaukee, Wis.

Meeting with Daley were U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Oberstar is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which is drawing up a new transportation funding bill.

"Rail was instrumental in building St. Paul and the Upper Midwest, and, as we look to create a robust, multi-modal transportation plan for the nation, high-speed rail will play a significant role in our future," Coleman said. "An investment in this kind of infrastructure is good for the economy, good for the environment and essential for future of our region."

Secretary Pawlenty?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that if John McCain becomes president, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty could be his education secretary.

Since McCain passed over the governor as his running mate, in favor of Sarah Palin, there has been talk that Pawlenty could be in line for a Cabinet position.

State E85 use up

Minnesota state workers continue to use more E85 fuel.

The corn-based fuel, made from 85 percent ethanol, was used 55 percent more in the first three quarters of this year than the same period of 2007, the American Lung Association reports.

That means in 2008's first nine months state government's 1,700 vehicles that can use E85 burned 529,000 gallons.

"We have increased our E85 use to approximately 12 percent of our total fuel purchases," said Tim Morse of the Minnesota Administration Department. "That's very good progress toward our goal, but with E85 available at more than 360 locations statewide, we can do even better."

The Lung Association's Kelly Marczak said that a vehicle using E85 "produces significantly less tailpipe emissions than the same vehicle using gasoline."

Not that pricey

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar had to set the record straight right away.

Pointing to her pink-and-black outfit, the Minnesota Democrat wanted her audience to know that she does not buy clothes like the $150,000 Republicans spent on vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

"It was $150, the whole outfit," she said of the pants suit.

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