Green car bills face rough road at the Capitolby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota has set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Electric utilities are producing more wind power, and gas companies are setting up programs to help us conserve energy. Now the Legislature is turning its attention to cars and trucks. One-fourth of our global warming pollution comes from their tailpipes. But reducing greenhouse gases from our vehicles is going to be a tough sell at the Capitol.
St. Paul, Minn. — The price of gas has gone down since last summer, but the carbon dioxide we put out when we drive hasn't changed.
One new bill is aimed at getting us to put fewer miles on the car. It's called the sensible communities bill, and backers say it will provide benefits beyond reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
The idea is to reduce the number of miles we drive between our homes and where we work and shop.
Statewide, the legislation directs MnDOT to set policies to achieve at least a 15 percent reduction by 2025, with the year 2005 as the base level. For the Twin Cities, the Met Council would aim to get back to 1990 levels by 2025.
That means a lot denser development. But the bill's chief author, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, says it's not about forcing people to live in ways they don't want to live. People want new options, he says.
"People are getting older, kids are leaving the house, young people themselves want different kinds of choices, and people who are recent empty-nesters want choices. Even within suburban communities, they want different kinds of mixed-use development," Dibble said.
That means more houses and apartments closer to jobs and shops and schools.
The timing is bad, according to the League of Minnesota Cities. The bill gives cities four years to incorporate the goals into their comprehensive plans. Most metro area cities just finished their comprehensive plans, and normally they wouldn't do it again for 10 years.
Not to worry, says Sen. Dibble. He'll give them a couple more years, or find some money to help them do the job.
The bill would also eliminate the state's requirement that new schools be built on a parcel of land at least 60 acres in size. That old rule means too many small towns have to build new schools out in the cornfields, so the kids can't walk or bike to school, Dibble says.
Then there's the low-carbon fuel bill. This one is fighting a real uphill battle. Flint Hills Resources, the state's largest refinery, is against it. So far, ethanol producers and farmers are also suspicious of it, even though it's aimed at encouraging innovation in the ethanol industry.
The bill calls on oil refineries to reduce the carbon intensity of their products by 1 percent a year for 10 years.
Carbon intensity means the amount of greenhouse gases a fuel puts out per unit of energy. Refineries can reduce it by adding more ethanol to their blend, or by making their production process more energy efficient.
Or -- says Bill Grant from the Izaak Walton League -- they can use more ethanol that itself has been produced in a greener way.
"For example, the Chippewa Valley ethanol facility, which has installed a front-end gasifier on their production process, which allows them to substitute corn cobs as the heat source for natural gas," Grant said.
So they put out fewer global warming gases to produce the same product.
Grant says he's hoping to bring farmers and ethanol producers on board. But Flint Hills Resources spokesman Jake Reint says his company will certainly oppose the idea.
"This is the sort of policy that might sound good on the surface, but it could have serious consequences for Minnesota, including higher gas prices, job losses," said Reint. "It could even provide an incentive for U.S. refineries to increase their use of lower carbon fuel from places like the Middle East instead of Canada."
Flint Hills and other critics of the bill are expected to prevent the bill from passing.
A bill making its reappearance after failing last year is the so-called clean car bill. It would adopt California's emissions standards, and advocates say it would get better results than the new federal fuel economy standards.
The opposition is the same this year -- mainly from auto manufacturers and dealers. So far, supporters say they don't have quite the number of votes they need to pass it this year.
- Morning Edition, 02/19/2009, 6:20 a.m.