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Peterson to push new ethanol sources

ST. PAUL - The incoming chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee said farmers in Minnesota and across the country will benefit from more investment in new types of ethanol fuel.

Collin Peterson

ST. PAUL - The incoming chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee said farmers in Minnesota and across the country will benefit from more investment in new types of ethanol fuel.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Detroit Lakes Democrat who was elected to his chairmanship Thursday, said that as he writes farm legislation next year, one of his priorities will be to place a greater emphasis on growing the fledgling cellulose-based ethanol industry.

Corn-based ethanol has been a success, but the next generation of the fuel - which uses biomass sources such as switchgrass - will be more sustainable, he said Friday.

"I think it's safe to say this is the most exciting thing to happen in agriculture in my lifetime," Peterson said of renewable energy alternatives.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, Peterson outlined the biggest task he will face when the Democrat-controlled Congress begins work in January: drafting the new farm bill.

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Lawmakers see passage of a new farm bill next year as critical because much of the current legislation expires in September 2007.

Peterson said he already is talking with top Democratic lawmakers who will lead budget committees next year, including Sen. Kent Conrad, of North Dakota, to begin preparing for his committee's work. He was optimistic the Senate and House will agree on a revised farm bill and send it to President Bush for his signature before the current bill runs out.

Peterson cautioned that some lawmakers could be trying too hard to help profitable corn-based ethanol plants, which he said "don't need a whole lot of help."

Half of the proposed ethanol-related legislation "will do more harm than good," he said, citing proposals that would make it easier for Wall Street to overtake farmers and local investors as the primary investor in new ethanol plants.

Peterson also said he and other Midwestern lawmakers will try again in January to implement a permanent relief program to assist farmers who suffer financial losses as a result of a drought, flood or other disaster.

First elected to the U.S. House in 1990, Peterson will lead a committee that is considered one of the least partisan of congressional panels.

"We will continue to work on a bipartisan basis out into the future," said Peterson, whose 7th District is largely rural and spans much of western Minnesota.

He was one of two Minnesota Democratic congressmen elected committee chairman for the 110th Congress.

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Late Thursday, Rep. Jim Oberstar, of Chisholm, whose 8th District covers northeastern Minnesota, was named chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. That panel, on which Oberstar has served since he was first elected to Congress in 1974, oversees highway, rail, aviation and port issues.

Readers can reach Forum Communications reporter Scott Wente at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com

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