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Coleman makes 'victory lap' and extols virtues of farm bill

WILLMAR -- Sen. Norm Coleman made a stop Monday in Willmar on what he called a "victory lap" for the 2008 farm bill.

The Republican senator extolled the virtues of the $288 billion, five-year bill that "should be the nutrition, conservation and biofuels'' bill, Coleman told an audience of about 35 people gathered at Ridgewater College. The senator also stopped in Moorhead and Mankato.

The bill, passed last week by a 318-106 vote in the House of Representatives and an 81-15 vote in the Senate, is expected to be vetoed today by President Bush. The veto is expected to be quickly overridden by both houses.

"(Overriding the veto) will be, in my perspective, a good thing," Coleman said.

Donning a Ridgewater College Agriculture Department sweatshirt, Coleman was complimentary of many of the key provisions in the farm bill.

Coleman started by talking up the $3.8 billion provision to establish permanent crop-disaster programs for farmers, the $120 million for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development for rural water and wastewater infrastructure improvements and kept going until he got to the $1 billion for research and development of cellulosic ethanol.

"Ethanol has given us the start, now it's time to move to cellulosic," he said, adding that energy prices are causing great concern across the country. "That's why renewables are so important."

The passage of the farm bill has been paralleled by rising energy costs and by pressure to repeal the renewable fuels standard, passed first in 2005 and again last December, that currently requires the U.S. to use 9 billion gallons of renewable fuel this year. That requirement will increase to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2022.

"The worst thing possible would be to gut the renewables," Coleman said. "That would drive up oil prices even more."

The Senate will not undermine the development of the renewable fuels industry, he added, and will not act quickly on the renewable fuels standard.

"The great thing about the Senate, it's a body that's supposed to act deliberately," he said. "We are certainly not stepping back."