Car manufacturers and dealers have opposed the measure. But when farmers weigh in on an issue, legislators really pay attention.
Now they'll have to decide which farm group to listen to.
The so-called California clean car bill requires new cars and trucks registered in Minnesota, starting in 2012, to meet standards set by the California Air Resources Board. Those standards include tighter limits on the compounds that cause smog and acid rain. They also include, for the first time, limits on carbon dioxide emissions -- the main culprit in global warming.
Twelve states have now signed on to the California rules.
But a big part of the ethanol industry in Minnesota is fighting it.
The California standards wouldn't increase the use of ethanol, says Bruce Stockman, executive director of the Minnesota Corn Growers. He says the new rules won't do much better than existing rules at protecting the environment. Why should Minnesota jump on the California bandwagon, he asks, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency has denied California permission to implement the rules.
"We don't see a reason to rush into it. We would rather see what the outcome really is, and whether or not the passing of that would actually damage the use of renewable fuel like ethanol in Minnesota."
California has different pollution problems than Minnesota has, he says, and ethanol is already helping Minnesota reduce its emissions of carbon monoxide.
"It's being masqueraded as cleaning the air more, but if you look at the details, it will not. Not here in Minnesota."
On the other hand, the Minnesota Farmers Union has come out in favor of adopting the California standards. The MFU asked for, and received some changes in the bill that prompt his group to support it, says the groups head, Doug Peterson says.
"Our policy basically says we would like to have increased use of renewable fuels, and increased E-85, and we feel at this point with those added amendments this bill will do that."
He says the amendments call for actual measurement of the amount of ethanol sold as a result of the new standards.
The law in California requires auto makers not just to sell flex fuel vehicles that can burn a blend of 85-percent ethanol -- they have to show that their customers are actually filling up with E-85, not just using regular gas. On-board computers can collect the data.
The ethanol industry has nothing to worry about from the California standards, according to The bill's chief author in the House, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
Her bill doesn't promote one fuel over another, but since ethanol is already on the market, auto makers are likely to meet the standards using flex fuel vehicles, she says.
"The easiest way for GM or Ford to meet the standard is to simply increase the number of flex fuel vehicles they sell in Minnesota and increase the amount of E-85 that's used in the state."
Several models already meet the standard, she says, including the GMC Sierra 1500 when running on E-85, and the Chevy Tahoe using a hybrid engine. The rules wouldn't even kick in until 2012.
Hortman points out the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group recommended that the state adopt the California standards.
"And it is one of the few measures that saves consumers money and costs the state government relatively little or nothing."
She's expecting a final committee hearing in the House next week.
In the Senate, the measure still needs to be heard in the Business, Industry, and Jobs committee. Then it will have to go to the Rules committee before heading to a floor vote.
The Senate sponsor, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, says he's slowly collecting supporters.
All three major presidential candidates say they would allow the California standards to go ahead.