MINNEAPOLIS -- Vice President Dick Cheney told farm leaders here Friday exactly what they wanted to hear, saying the president's energy policy would lean more on ethanol and other renewable fuels than the nation has in the past.
And farm leaders said they're inclined to believe in the administration for now, citing its recent decision not to exempt California from a requirement for cleaner-burning fuels.
"We have heard about it from other administrations," said Al Christopherson, president of Minnesota Farm Bureau. "It appears that this administration, for whatever reason, it seems to be more real."
Added Minnesota Corn Growers Association president Loren Tusa: "Not granting California a waiver a few months ago was a good signal for the ethanol industry. And the signal said, 'Build, expand production."'
Christopherson and Tusa were among 20 farmers hand-picked to meet privately with Cheney during his brief stop in Minneapolis. While in town, he addressed Republican faithful who came from 12 states to attend the Midwest Leadership Conference, a meeting to plot strategy and gear up for the 2002 election.
The part-business, part-politics Minnesota visit was Cheney's first as vice president. He promised he would be back next year on behalf of St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, the probable challenger to Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone.
"I look forward, Norm, to campaigning for you next year and swearing you in as the next senator from Minnesota," Cheney said. Coleman stood near the vice president at the events.
In the last couple of weeks, Cheney has toured the country trying to build support for the administration's controversial energy proposal. The House could vote on portions of it next week.
Cheney confined his Minnesota remarks mainly to ethanol -- a corn-derived additive that has given Midwest farmers another outlet for their crop. Last year, corn generated $1.18 billion in Minnesota, making it the state's second-largest cash crop behind soybeans.
The Bush administration's hope is to eventually triple the current 2 percent of the nation's energy that comes from renewable sources, Cheney said, though he gave a 15- to 20-year time frame for that to happen.
Cheney said increasing use of renewables would help augment farm income and keep energy and fuel costs in check for farmers and everyone else.
"There's a bit of a temptation on the part of many to say 'Gasoline prices are down a quarter of a gallon, there's no problem,"' he said. "There is a long-term problem in the U.S."
A spokesman for Wellstone, Jim Farrell, accused Cheney of being insincere by touting renewable fuels while the administration has proposed cutting the Department of Energy's budget for research and development of renewable fuels. Farrell provided budget documents showing a 50 percent cut from the 2001 budget of $376 million.
Besides ethanol, Cheney singled out a Pipestone man, Dan Juhl, for his wind farm that produces 10 megawatts of power a year. But Cheney noted the expensive upfront costs Juhl incurred to set up his operation, saying he would look into incentives the federal government could offer to make investing in ethanol and wind plants more attractive.
Christopherson said the key is increasing the use of the alternative fuels and not letting any state opt out.
"If people are going to lay out the investment then we have to make sure there is a market to capture that revenue," he said.
Before leaving Minneapolis, Cheney headlined a fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, a freshman Republican who knocked off incumbent David Minge by 155 votes in one of the tightest races in the nation. Kennedy, who was stuck in Washington on Friday, may face a tough re-election fight in 2002, possibly against Minge.
On the Net:
Midwest Leadership Conference: http://www.midwestleadership.org
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