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Senate passes bill increasing ethanol requirement

ST. PAUL (AP) -- The state Senate on Monday passed a bill todouble the amount of ethanol required in gasoline sold in Minnesota, although the conversion would be far down the road.

Under current law all gas sold in the state must have at least 10-percent ethanol content. The Senate bill, which passed on a 54-12 bipartisan vote after a quick debate, would boost that to 20 percent by 2012.

"As we look at the conflicts around the world and in the Mideast, we have to continue to look at how we can be more self-sufficient in Minnesota," said Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, the bill's chief sponsor. He went on to repeat a line used by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in his State of the State speech, that promotion of ethanol, a corn-based fuel, could make Minnesota "the Saudi Arabia of alternative fuels."

Sams and other legislators also noted that production of ethanol has become a key economic development tool for rural Minnesota. "It can make money and it is making money," said Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, pointing out that three ethanol plants are now under construction without a subsidy from the state.

The 14 existing ethanol plants in Minnesota produce about 400 million gallons of ethanol a year, and supporters say the higher requirement would call for production of about 550 million gallons a year.

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The higher ethanol levels are opposed by fuel and automobile manufacturers, who say most vehicles are not engineered to process that much ethanol. In order to set the higher standard, the state of Minnesota will have to obtain a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- something that Pawlenty, Sams and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., were planning to discuss in a Tuesday morning meeting.

"Minnesota has the chance to lead the nation again and we want to take advantage of it," Pawlenty said after the Senate vote, hailing it as proof that there's momentum behind the issue.

The bill was supported by most of the Senate DFLers from Minneapolis and St. Paul, who haven't always supported ethanol as a priority. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, said she'd be seeking support later in the session for other alternative energy sources, including wind and biomass.

"I think it's important for us to be talking in Minnesota about energy alternatives and reducing our dependence on foreign oil," Anderson said.

No senators spoke against the bill, but those who voted against it were mostly conservative Republicans from the suburbs who have opposed state support of the ethanol industry.

The House Agriculture Policy Committee was scheduled to review its own version of the bill in a hearing Tuesday afternoon. There are differences between the two bills, but Sams said they're not insurmountable.

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