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CAPX 2020 issues and deadline begin to come into focus

WASHINGTON -- Congress by a wide margin approved the first increase in automobile fuel economy in 32 years Tuesday, and President Bush has signaled he will accept the mandates on the auto industry.

The energy bill, boosting mileage by 40 percent to 35 miles per gallon, passed the House 314-100 and now goes to the White House, following the Senate's approved last week.

In a dramatic shift to spur increased demand for nonfossil fuels, the bill also requires a six-fold increase in ethanol use to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a boon to farmers. And it requires new energy efficiency standards for an array of appliances, lighting and commercial and government buildings.

"This is a choice between yesterday and tomorrow" on energy policy, declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was closely involved in crafting the legislation.

"It's groundbreaking in what it will do."

While some GOP lawmakers criticized the bill for failing to address the need for more domestic oil and natural gas production, 95 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in support of the bill.

"This legislation is a historic turning point in energy policy," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland because it will cut demand for foreign oil and promote nonfossil fuels that will cut greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

It increases energy efficiency "from light bulbs to light trucks," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a longtime protector of the auto industry who was key to a compromise on vehicle efficiency increases.

Many Republicans denounced the Democratic-crafted bill for failing to push for more domestic production of fossil fuels and for mandates some GOP lawmakers warned will not be possible. Democrats disagreed. The legislation takes measured and concrete steps that are achievable, said Dingell.

The Senate passed the bill last week after discarding billions of dollars in higher taxes on oil companies and a solar and wind power mandate that opponents said would raise electric rates in the Southeast. President Bush and Senate Republicans opposed those measures.

The centerpiece of the bill remained the requirement for automakers to increase their industrywide vehicle fuel efficiency by 40 percent to an industry average of 35 mpg by 2020 compared to today's 25 mpg when including passenger cars as well as SUVs and small trucks.

Congress has not changed the auto mileage requirement since it was first enacted in 1975.

Democrats said the fuel economy requirements eventually -- when the fleet of gas-miser vehicles are widely on the road -- will save motorists $700 to $1,000 a year in fuel costs. They maintain the overall bill, including more ethanol use and various efficiency requirements and incentives, will reduce U.S. oil demand by 4 million barrels a day by 2030, more than twice the daily imports from the volatile Persian Gulf.

The automakers have repeatedly fought an increase in the federal fuel standard, known as CAFE, maintaining it would limit the range of vehicles consumers will have available in showrooms and threaten auto industry jobs. Bush also has argued against an arbitrary, numerical increase in the fuel efficiency requirement, preferring instead legislation to streamline the federal requirements and market incentives to get rid of gas guzzling vehicles.

But the automakers have accepted the political shift toward a tougher requirement. After the Senate approved the legislation last week, the White House immediately said Bush would sign it once it reaches his desk.

The bill requires a massive increase in the production of ethanol for motor fuels, outlining a rampup of ethanol use from the roughly 6 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons by 2022. After 2015, the emphasis would be on expanded use of cellulosic ethanol, made from such feedstock as switchgrass and wood chips, with two thirds of the ethanol -- 21 billion gallons a year -- from such non-corn sources.

However, commercially viable production of cellulosic ethanol has yet to be proven and some Republicans have argued that the new requirements could be impossible to meet and may raise corn prices and food supplies.

WILLMAR -- Amanda Flood is on track to graduate from St. Cloud State University next year with a degree in criminal justice studies.

What makes her story remarkable isn't just that she's a non-traditional student earning her degree while working full time. Flood will make a bit of history as the first student to complete her bachelor's degree in criminal justice studies taking classes at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Presidents of the two schools signed the official agreement for the program on Tuesday at Ridgewater.

"It's a huge positive for both institutions," said Ridgewater President Douglas Allen. "In higher ed today, we do need to work together."

SCSU President Earl H. Potter III said he believed the agreement was a good model for the rest of the state.

"The partnership between a four-year university and a two-year college is essential throughout Minnesota," he said.

Potter said he was especially pleased that a student's efforts created the "pipeline" between the two schools.

Sheree Morgan of Spicer, now the coordinator of off-campus programs, was the student who helped develop the partnership.

Morgan was a non-traditional student who earned an associate degree at Ridgewater. She continued her education at St. Cloud State once she could afford a car that would reliably make the trip.

Ridgewater offered some opportunities to earn four-year degrees, "but not anything I was interested in," she said.

After she got a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, she worked as a probation officer for a time before going back to St. Cloud State for a master's degree in criminal justice.

While working as a graduate assistant in the department, Morgan said, she talked to faculty members in St. Cloud and Willmar about providing the opportunity to earn a four-year degree at Ridgewater.

Now, she is an SCSU employee who works in an office on the Ridgewater Willmar campus. While criminal justice is the first four-year degree offered by the partnership, "we're hoping it will expand to other areas," she said.

The program started with two students and currently has a dozen enrolled. Students can register, buy books and take care of other matters through Morgan's office in Willmar. The program offers a variety of traditional, interactive TV and online courses.

Flood said she has taken advantage of all the different types of classes, choosing "whatever fit in" with her job in adult foster care. It wouldn't have been possible for her to work the hours that she did and to drive to St. Cloud for classes, she said.

Once she finishes her degree next year, she plans to look for work in probation and may eventually study for her master's degree.

"I can't believe this went as smoothly as it did," she said.

The faculty has been a great help in making sure she could register for the classes she needed, Flood said. "That's the reason I'm so far," she said. "They really pushed to get my classes."

"This offers a local student an opportunity to complete a four-year degree without having to leave the area," said Mike Kutzke, law enforcement instructor at Ridgewater.

The degree students earn will be a broad-based liberal arts degree that will allow them to work in many areas of law enforcement, he said. "It allows students to be more competitive in the career area with a four-year degree," he added.

The diploma students receive will be from St. Cloud State. "We just facilitate it through a partnership here," Kutzke said.

The program is designed with the flexibility that non-traditional students need, Kutzke said.

St. Cloud State officials said the cooperative program offers a good alternative for students who can't move or drive to a four-year school or prefer a smaller school.

"St. Cloud is a nice university, but some people prefer not to go to a bigger university," said Bob Prout, chairman of the criminal justice studies department there.

Prout said he was in favor of the arrangement when he heard about it, but Morgan deserves the credit for developing the idea. "She took the leadership role," he said. "She's the one that wrote the proposal. ... It was her drive that got it done."

The program is self-supporting, and is "a good model" for others to follow, said John Burgeson, dean of the Center for Continuing Studies at St. Cloud State.

University class schedules often aren't set up with non-traditional students in mind, but this program seems to work for them, he said. "I think this works primarily because we have an online component," he said.

Patricia Aceves, director of distributed learning in the Center for Continuing Studies, said colleges and universities are doing more to accommodate adult students.

"I'm hopeful the success of criminal justice will help spur some new (cooperative) programs," she said.

OLIVIA -- Renville County's hard rock mining controversy is far from settled, even though Duininck Bros. Inc. of Prinsburg has complied with a county order to reclaim the rock quarry site in Beaver Falls Township near North Redwood Falls.

The Renville County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution at its meeting Tuesday to "disallow'' a claim by Duininck Bros. for its reclamation costs. The company sent the county an invoice demanding $122,697.50 for its reclamation costs, and it was revealed at the meeting.

In their resolution disallowing the claim, the commissioners describe the invoice as not being a legitimate claim and charge the company with acting in "bad faith."

This most recent dispute over the hard rock mining operation dates to Oct. 1, the date at which Duininck Bros. was obligated to have completed a reclamation process ordered 17 months earlier. The county reported that an Oct. 2 inspection of the site found that some of the work had not been completed as required.

It ordered the company to complete the work.

After the work was satisfactorily completed, the county received a $122,697.50 invoice from Duininck Bros.

In a letter accompanying the invoice, Duininck Bros. President Harris Duininck said the invoice represented costs that would not have been incurred until the material was sold. "DBI feels that the invoice is fair, accurate and should be paid by Renville County,'' he stated in the letter. The invoice includes costs for cleanup, equipment such as loaders and a crane, labor, topsoil and seeding.

The company followed with another invoice in November. The county's attorney for environmental issues, Scott Anderson, responded with a letter on Nov. 20.

Duininck has sent three invoices to the county to date. The most recent, due Dec. 30, includes $1,840.46 in finance charges along with the original $122,697.50 bill.

The county and company have been at odds over the issue since late 2005, when the company sought to renew its permit for hard rock mining operations in the quarry. In the process, the county discovered that the quarry was located in an area of the Minnesota River where hard rock mining is prohibited under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The county did not renew the permit and ordered the company to begin its reclamation while allowing it to remove the aggregate already stockpiled there.

OLIVIA -- Some of the issues surrounding the largest proposed upgrade to Minnesota's electrical transmission system to be made in decades came into focus Monday evening at a public meeting in Olivia.

The public has until Jan. 14 to provide input to the Minnesota Department of Commerce on the environmental issues that should be addressed as the state considers the CAPX 2020 proposal. Also, this is the opportunity to suggest any alternatives that should be analyzed. They could include such things as improving local distribution systems, energy conservation or load management strategies in place of expanding the capacity of long-distance transmission system.

"It's particularly important that you think about these issues now,'' David Birkholz, Minnesota Department of Commerce, told about 20 people attending the meeting. The comments will shape the environmental review that will determine whether the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issues a certificate of need for the project in November.

Eleven utilities led by Great River Energy and Xcel Energy are proposing an estimated $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion electric transmission expansion for 2020. Known as the Group I projects, they include three separate, 345-kilovolt transmission lines. One line of approximately 200 miles will run through this region from Brookings, S.D., to a substation in Dakota County.

Birkholz described the lines as "major highways'' to move electricity.

There is a need to move more electricity as the state's population grows and we use more power in our homes and businesses, according to Randy Fordyce with Great River Energy.

Fordyce told the meeting participants that the transmission system is nearing its capacity. The utility companies estimate that an additional 4,000 megawatts to 6,000 megawatts of capacity are needed by 2020.

Along with meeting the growing demand, the added capacity is needed to carry additional wind-generated electricity. An additional 600 to 700 megawatts of renewable energy is expected to be added to the line that will run through this region, he said. That, plus power being produced by wind turbines on the Buffalo Ridge, could bring 1,800 megawatts of renewable power to the state's transmission grid.

The prospect of expanding our transmission system to carry more renewable energy brought Jim Nichols to the meeting. The former state agriculture commissioner is now a Lincoln County wind power proponent and corn farmer. "As a nation we've got to do something to generate more power,'' he said. "As farmers, we're part of that solution.''

Nichols said power lines were installed on his farmland to carry electricity produced by Buffalo Ridge wind turbines. Voicing his support for the CAPX 2020 project, he fairly gushed about how he was treated in the placement of the power poles: "I couldn't have been treated more fairly as a landowner,'' he told the participants.

Other landowners said they came to the meeting to be certain that they receive the same sort of treatment. William Schwandt of Morton said he has no qualms about developing our electric transmission system. He happens to own an electric car manufactured in Fargo, N.D.

But he pointed out that he will realize no revenues from the production of electricity, wind-powered or otherwise. Nor will he necessarily benefit by the added power carried on the system. Most of the growth in electrical usage is occurring in the state's metropolitan area, he said.

Yet Schwandt pointed out that his property could be crossed by a 345-kilovolt line, and he will have to live with the lines and poles every day. He said he wants to be assured that he and others in the path receive a "fair" deal.

Carol Overland, an attorney from Red Wing, said she is concerned that landowners in Minnesota are being asked to carry the burden for a transmission upgrade that offers most of its benefits elsewhere. Overland said most of the power to be carried on the lines will come from coal-fired plants in the Dakotas. The lines running through Minnesota farmland will carry most of that power to metropolitan markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and as far as Chicago and beyond.

Overland also challenged the enthusiasm about adding wind power to the lines. She said most of that wind power will come from the Dakotas rather than Minnesota and could be owned by large corporations and not farmers. It is extremely expensive to develop wind farms large enough to justify the cost of raising the voltage to access a 345-kilovolt line, she said.

To provide comment on the environmental scope to be considered for CAPX 2020, contact David Birkholz, 651-296-2878, 1-800-657-3794, Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 Seventh Place East, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55101,