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Minnesota House approves increase in ethanol levels

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to require that the amount of ethanol in gasoline sold in Minnesota be doubled over the next decade, with supporters citing economic opportunity for rural areas and decreased dependence on foreign oil.

"What would ethanol mean for the residents of Minnesota?" asked Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, sponsor of the provision. "Not much except cleaner air, fewer energy worries and more businesses along the main streets of our small towns."

Ethanol is made from corn, and added to fuel to make it burn cleaner. The state of Minnesota has 15 ethanol plants, most in rural areas, and three more are under construction.

The state currently requires that gasoline sold here contain 10 percent ethanol. The bill passed by the House would double that to 20 percent.

The 91-43 vote in the House came after nearly five hours of debate on the bill. As usual, the final outcome split not along party lines but between urban and rural members, with both Democrats and Republicans from the cities and suburbs less likely to support what some argued has not yet proven to be a viable energy source.

In addition to the added requirement, the state makes yearly payments to ethanol producers - an amount Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, estimated to be close to $75 million in a two-year budget cycle.

"Now this mandate," Paymar said. "My question is, why should the state continue to subsidize farmers at this level? I think we should stop propping up this industry and let ethanol compete in the public market."

Under the House legislation, fuel sellers would have until 2010 to show that they are meeting the new standard. If they are not meeting it by then, they would get until 2013 before the requirement becomes absolute.

That's a year difference from the companion bill that the Senate passed a few weeks ago, requiring the change by 2012. There are several other differences with the Senate's version, but the bill is backed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and sponsors were confident they would be able to reach a resolution by the end of session.