SARAH COOKE Associated Press Writer
HELENA A Havre Democrat accused House Republicans Wednesday of using a simple cleanup bill to kill a law that would eventually require most gasoline sold in the state be blended with ethanol. Rep. Bob Bergren told lawmakers his bill had been “hijacked” in committee and later accused the GOP of brokering a “backroom deal” in trying to eliminate the ethanol requirement backed by the Schweitzer administration and passed by the 2005 Legislature. “This borders on an unethical type of situation,” he said. Bergren said his measure, which was endorsed by the House, changed some language in the law and was “meant to keep the state out of court.” It proposes giving distributors cash instead of tax incentives for producing ethanol in Montana from state agricultural products. The House Transportation Committee unanimously supported Bergren’s bill earlier this week, but removed the ethanol requirement in amending the proposal. Bergren said he didn’t know about the change until he got the bill back. He tried unsuccessfully to restore the mandate, and later joined the Schweitzer administration in saying he hoped the Democrat-controlled Senate could restore the provision. “We’re hopeful it will get changed in the Senate,” said Sarah Elliott, Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s press secretary. One of Schweitzer’s top priorities in 2005, the ethanol law required most gasoline sold in the state to contain 10 percent ethanol starting 12 months or more after state ethanol production reached 40 million gallons per year. Montana doesn’t have any ethanol plants. Republicans largely opposed the bill, and said Wednesday they still didn’t like the idea. “The state of Montana cannot afford to have a mandate on ethanol in all of its fuel,” said Rep. Ed Butcher, Rwinifred. Rep. Jon Sonju, R-Kalispell, head of the House Transportation Committee, readily acknowledged “hijacking” Bergren’s bill and said the Department of Transportation agreed with the panel’s amendments. “Why are we cleaning up a bill that the GOP knew wasn’t going to work in the 2005 session?” he said. Bergren said he welcomed debate on the issue, but told Republicans to “get your own bill” to initiate that conversation. “If you have a policy question to pose before this body, I suggest to you there are 2,500 bill requests (in the Legislative Services Division) that some of this would fall under,” he said. The bill is House Bill 175.