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Frederickson urges farmers to write to EPA on RFS

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 01/27/2014 10:09 AM

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ALBERT LEA — Fighting battles is nothing new for the ethanol industry, agriculture commissioner Dave Frederickson said last week during a tour designed to highlight the importance of the state's biofuels industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking comments through Jan. 28 on a proposal to reduce the amount of corn ethanol that will be required under the Renewable Fuels Standard. The EPA proposal will reduce the amount of ethanol required from the original 14.4 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons. It also freezes the biodiesel volume.

Frederickson's renewable fuels tour is an effort to remind everyone involved in agriculture of the importance of sending their own personal letter to the EPA.

Frederickson visited five biofuel plants last week and is scheduled to tour 12 more. If the Environmental Protection Agency makes the proposed reductions in the RFS, it is estimated to cost the state more than 1,500 jobs and $610 million in lost economic activity, Frederickson said.

Ethanol isn't subsidized by the federal or state government, he said. The industry was built on support, but now it stands on its own two feet. The RFS simply gives renewable fuels a piece of the market. The proposal to reduce the amount of biofuels used under the RFS is simply about market share. The oil industry is concerned about losing market share, and so is the renewable fuels industry, Frederickson said.

At a stop at the POET plant near Albert Lea, Frederickson met with about 40 people in the plant's conference room. He asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves and tell where they went to high school. Each person also commented on renewable fuels.

Jerry Demmer, of Clarks Grove, chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council, encouraged attendees to talk to their landlords and implement dealers and other suppliers about the importance of sending a letter to the EPA.

Everybody needs to write letters, said Gary Pestorious, chairman of the board of directors at POET Biorefining-Glenville. The effect of ethanol goes far beyond those who own shares in a plant; rather, it extends into the entire agricultural community.

Bruce Peterson, who farms near Northfield and is a board member of Al-Corn Clean Fuels in Claremont, asked farmers to think about how their market has changed since ethanol plants opened. He used to haul his corn north. Now, his markets are ethanol plants to the south.

Another farmer talked about ethanol's role in reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil and in making a difference in national defense. Ethanol keeps money away from people who don't like the United States, he said.

Another said ethanol saves everyone who fuels their vehicles 50 cents to 70 cents per gallon at the pump.

Renewable fuels also cushioned the agricultural economy during the Great Recession. One farmer said he's paying more taxes than ever before — both real estate and income — because of the strength of the agricultural economy.

"If we did not have ethanol, we'd still be sliding along with $2 corn," he said.

Randy Kehr, executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, said biofuels are crucial to the community's economy.

Tim Wiersma, a farmer and seed dealer, said the air quality benefits of ethanol need to be promoted. He remembers coming over the hill in the Twin Cities on trips up north and encountering a brown haze hanging over the Cities. Ethanol has helped clean up the air, he said.

Cleaner air was one of the four pillars the state's ethanol program was built upon, Frederickson said. The other three are creating jobs in rural areas, adding value to what farmers produce and lessening the state's dependence on foreign oil.

Demmer suggested farmers call Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken and thank them for their support of renewable fuels when they are writing their letter to EPA.

The state's Congressional delegation has provided good support on this issue, Frederickson said.

Andy Martin, from Klobuchar's office, said the senator hosted a meeting with 15 of her Senate colleagues and the EPA administrator to talk about the importance of renewable fuels.

Martin said every comment letter submitted must be read by the EPA, and the issues raised must be addressed.