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Some rural lawmakers worried about state plans for tougher auto emissions law -- Eken says fears are unfounded

ST. PAUL - A plan to implement stricter motor vehicle emissions standards in the state has some legislators worried about its effect on rural Minnesota.

Adopting a tougher standard is a step Minnesota can take toward reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, bill sponsor Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told a House committee Thursday.

It would spur research and production of cleaner-burning vehicles, save consumers money and promote the use of corn-based ethanol fuel, she said. A blend of E85 fuel - a mixture of 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline - emits less carbon than traditional fuel.

Even as the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved the proposal 10-7, supporters said they will work to address several concerns raised by rural legislators and automotive industry officials.

Some legislators worry California could alter its policy to include all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. Among Democrats who voted against the measure were Rep. Dave Olin of Thief River Falls, whose legislative district includes Polaris and Arctic Cat facilities, and Dave Dill of Crane Lake, in far northern Minnesota.

Dill wondered what vehicles might someday be included in the standards and whether the plan could hurt automotive dealers near the state border.

Kent Eken, the committee's chairman, said concerns the requirements could be expanded to include all-terrain vehicles and even aircraft are unwarranted.

The Twin Valley DFLer said adopting the California guidelines could be a way to promote renewable energy growing industry around the state - because automotive manufacturers could make more vehicles that run on that type of fuel to meet an emissions guideline.

"I really see this as being a benefit to rural Minnesota," Eken said.

The plan would affect the sale of new passenger vehicles in Minnesota, including cars, SUVs and trucks. Commercial trucks would not be included when the average emissions of the state's vehicle fleet is calculated.

Hortman said states can choose to abide by federal emissions requirements or to adopt a stricter set of policies developed by the state of California, which she proposes Minnesota do.

But not everyone is convinced Minnesota should follow California, which still is awaiting a federal waiver for its program.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, voted against the measure.

He said it could force Minnesota to become "an island in a group of states" without the California policy.

He also worried how such a policy would affect Minnesota, which sells more trucks than does California.

Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or