Midwest = Middle East?

Minn. governor signs ethanol-doubling legislation

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Governor Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday signed one of his marquee initiatives for the 2005 legislative sessiona bill that will double the amount of ethanol in gasoline in Minnesota.

Pawlenty signed the bill while sitting next to an E85 dispenser at a St. Paul SuperAmerica. He was surrounded by legislators and ethanol supporters. "This bill strengthens our rural economy, improves our air quality and reduces our unhealthy dependence on foreign oil," he said. "It also puts our state at the leading edge of a very promising industry. We truly [image-nocss] are on our way to becoming the Saudi Arabia of renewable fuels."

Currently, Minnesota law requires all gasoline sold within the state to include 10% ethanol (E10). That mandate has been in place since 1997.

As reported in CSP Daily News, under the legislation signed by the governor, a new E20 mandate would take effect in 2013 unless ethanol has already replaced 20% of the state's motor vehicle fuel by 2010.

A research report from the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research at Minnesota State University-Mankato showed that there were no drivability or material compatibility problems experienced by 15 vehicles of various years, makes and models using E30.

Minnesota has North America's largest network of E85 stations with approximately 130 stations now online. Roughly 120,000 Minnesotans now drive flexible fuel cars designed to burn either gasoline or E85, a blend of 85% ethyl alcohol and 15% gasoline. E85 is produced from the starch in agricultural products, primarily domestically produced corn. Growing corn actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere so that the total effect of using ethanol made from corn is a significant reduction in greenhouse emissions when compared to the use of petroleum-based fuels.

Also, Minnesota is the nation's leader in the use of renewable fuels with highest renewable fuel use per capita in the nation. Minnesota was the first state to require the use of ethanol in gasoline. Other states are beginning to follow suit. Last year Hawaii enacted a measure similar to Minnesota's mandate. The governor of Montana signed their new E10 requirement into law this past Friday.

Through his leadership as chairman of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition, Pawlenty is encouraging other states to join the movement.

"This legislation is a win for everybody," Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Gene Sandager said. "By increasing demand for ethanol, local farmers now have a larger market for what they produce right here in Minnesota. That's good for the entire state."

The ethanol industry provides jobs for more than 5,300 Minnesotans and pumps $1.3 billion dollars into Minnesota's economy. There are 14 ethanol plants in Minnesota that produce more than 450 million gallons of ethanol every year, with two more plants currently under construction. Minnesota ranks 4th in the nation in production of fuel-grade ethanol, after Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Minnesota corn growers send approximately 15% of their crop to ethanol plants.

Increasing to a 20% blend could mean an economic impact of $1.58 billion and 6,157 jobs.

"Utilizing homegrown renewable fuels is good for our farmers, it's good for rural economic development, it's good for national security, and it's good for the environment," Pawlenty said. "I would much rather have the fuel in our cars come from the Midwest than from the Middle East."

In another fuel-related development Tuesday at the Capitol, the Minnesota Senate tax committee endorsed a seven-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to pay for road improvements, reported KARE-TV. It does not call for a public vote, as opposed to a five-cents-per-gallon bill pending in the House.

The senate version is sponsored by Transportation Committee chairman Steve Murphy (DFL). But four of the seven senators who voted in favor of the tax were Republicans. Tax Committee chairman Larry Pogemiller (D) voted against it and later told reporters, This is the wrong time to up the gasoline tax. Senate Republicans are now on record as favoring a tax increase on the middle class.

Murphy, in defense of his gasoline tax plan, noted that it has not been increased since 1988. And he said his goal is to accelerate road projects and save lives of motorists.

Currently Minnesotas state gasoline tax is 20-cents per gallon, five cents lower than the national average, and 12 cents lower than it is in neighbor state Wisconsin, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Pawlenty also signed a bill that boosts the minimum wage for the first time in eight years. Minimum wage earners will get a pay raise August 1, said the Associated Press, when the hourly minimum wage will go up $1 to $6.15. For companies with sales of less than $625,000, the minimum wage will rise to $5.25, up from the current $4.90.

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