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California car emission rules struggle to get Minnesota's OK

ST. PAUL (AP) - Proposals to have Minnesota follow California with the adoption of clean car standards appear to be sputtering at the Capitol in the face of resistance from the auto and ethanol industries.

The bills, which have had hearings in the House and Senate, aim to duplicate rules that require car and light-truck manufacturers to produce vehicles that cut emissions contributing to global warming by 30 percent by 2016. They had some momentum out of the gate.

In February, a group appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended adopting the California standards over weaker federal requirements as a way to push Minnesota toward its own greenhouse gas reduction goals. And last year, Attorney General Lori Swanson joined a court challenge of the Environmental Protection Agency's controversial decision to bar California from implementing its standards.

The same debate is occurring elsewhere, and more than a dozen other states either have adopted them or plan to and want the Environmental Protection Agency to allow the approach.

But some lawmakers want to put the brakes on the bill -- at least for now.

"What's the rush?" asked Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. "Do we need to do it today, or can we do it next year?"

Even if Minnesota adopts California's standards, it couldn't put them into place until the federal lawsuit is resolved or a new administration enters office and reverses the EPA's stance.

The auto industry is fighting the bills. Minnesota Auto Dealers Association leader Scott Lambert said a tougher state standard would limit consumer choices, making many models unavailable in Minnesota and probably would raise prices.

He also claims the change would damage the state's ethanol industry and allow appointed California officials to make decisions for Minnesotans.

Lambert contends the California standards were established for that state, which uses a lower blend of ethanol and has a higher percentage of cars in its fleet.

"We think the standards are unachievable, and, frankly, they don't gain much," Lambert said. "That is really not a lot, considering all the risk and damage they do."

Juhnke said ethanol producers argue there are too many unanswered questions to move ahead.

Proponents are waging a full-speed-ahead campaign to get Minnesota on board.

Last week, environmental groups rallied at the Capitol. They say technology exists to lower global warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes and called attention to several vehicles -- some of which run on E85, an ethanol-blended fuel -- that already meet the standards

"What strikes us is that every time there's been an attempt to improve motor vehicles in any meaningful way, there is this huge resistance from automakers," said Christopher Childs, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's North Star Chapter.

Ric Fohrman, general manager of AutoPoint Ltd., a Golden Valley car dealership, said the standards can be met without compromising safety, style or the ability to haul large items. Those vehicles also get better gas mileage, he added.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, hasn't had his bill put to a vote yet, with key committee deadlines looming.

"I think the public overwhelmingly supports addressing global warming issues, and this is a key part of it," Marty said, adding that Minnesota should "be ahead of the curve instead of behind it."