The Auto Industry's New "Alliance"
Hybrid Living, passing along a local report from earlier this week, delivers the news that even as Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson defends the state’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions as a party to California’s lawsuit against the EPA, its proposed clean cars law has stalled—perhaps fatally for this session—in the state legislature. Lobbying by the auto industry is playing a part, but a novel assist apparently goes to corn growers and ethanol producers, who argued that the law may harm efforts to expand ethanol markets and impair the certification of "flex-fuel" cars and trucks that run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline.
But is it really that novel? Advocates from Clean Energy Minnesota fervently deny that there’s any real reason for concern, and assert that the group principally repsonsible for ginning up local opposition is essentially a mouthpiece for the auto industry:
[James Erkel of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy] said the concern is baseless, pointing to GMC’s 2008 Sierra 1500 pickup that runs on a rich blend of E-85 (85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline) as well as similar vehicles that would meet the more stringent California standards. The ARB’s Dimitri Stanich said California air regulators have certified 300,000 flex fuel vehicles and suggested there will be more as soon as the state increases the number of pumps offering E-85 fuel, which California is now doing.
Erkel said that the auto industry is masquerading as an ethanol advocate as it enlists the corn growers and other farm groups to beat back legislation in Minnesota. The default "technical advisor" to the ethanol groups opposing the Marty and Hortman bills is the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, headquartered in Jefferson City, Mo. Its 16-member board of directors includes representatives of Chrysler, Ford, GMC and Nissan.
Obviously it’s not shocking that the auto industry would employ astroturf tactics and overwrought arguments to delay clean cars legislation (though it is noteworthy, in terms of looking at the industry’s credibility, to see a spokesman admit that the usual suspects "can’t stop this bill by ourselves"). The Minn Post also notes that when it asked the Minnesota Corn Growers and the Farm Bureau to explain their position, the silence was deafening and the apparent reliance on the aforementioned "technical advisors" clear:
Calls by MinnPost to the Corn Growers and the Farm Bureau ended with representatives saying they needed to check with their "technical people" for specific reasons for the groups’ opposition to the legislation. Neither group’s representatives called back with what they may have learned from their technical advisers.
Hybrid Living’s Sam Abuelsamid, agreeing that there’s nothing here to justify delaying the legislation other than a slight hypothetical concern, suggests that local opponents ought to look elsewhere for solutions to their concerns:
There doesn’t actually appear to be anything in the proposed legislation that would specifically harm the E85 market….It appears that the only way that this actually affects Team Ethanol is if the CO2 limits hurt sales of larger cars and full-size trucks which comprise the bulk of currently available flex-fuel vehicles. If truck sales are limited by de facto fuel economy requirements, than at least in the short term, E85-capable vehicle sales will suffer. Perhaps the ethanol side should be pushing the auto industry to make more of their vehicles E85 ready instead of fighting clean air rules.