MN Bio-Fuels At The 2023 Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit

  • Wednesday, 08 February 2023 11:22

On Feb 7, our executive director, Brian Werner, participated in a panel discussion on state and federal policy at the 2023 Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. Read on for a brief overview on the topics Werner discussed.

Brian, I believe you have a DFL trifecta in Minnesota, and correct me if I’m mistaken, but not a single ethanol or biodiesel plant in the state is in a district represented by a DFL legislator. How does that impact your ability to make progress on biofuels policy?

It has certainly made it more challenging. When I sat down to put together our advocacy strategy for the 2023 session, I went through the committee rosters and was a little surprised that I couldn’t find a single renewable fuel production plant in a DFL district. As a side note, I should probably make clear that the Democrats in Minnesota call themselves the DFL for Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. That’s the case in the state house and senate, but also in the federal House. We do have champions like Rep. Angie Craig - who also doesn’t technically have a plant in her district - and in the Senate of course with Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Smith, but the urban-rural political divide that has accelerated recently has made it more challenging. A lot of the DFL members I’ve been meeting with on the Agriculture Committees in St Paul are completely unfamiliar with biofuel, so we’re starting from square one - ethanol is made from corn; biodiesel is made from soybeans. They’re also more aligned with the environmental wing of the party. I get a question about land use change in almost every one of those meetings. So ultimately that just means we have to lean in to the environmental benefits of ethanol - 50% GHG reduction, less toxic emissions, the net-zero pledge by 2050 or sooner, and the fact that with new, innovative technologies we can lower the CI score of ethanol to the point where we’re beating EVs on a lifecycle basis. It also means educating those legislators - inviting them to a plant so they can see the workers, hear from the farmer owners about the economic benefits to rural communities. At MN Bio-Fuels we recently hosted a successful tour for two DFL senators - the chair and vice chair of the agriculture committee - at one of our plants. So we’re making progress, but we have to put in the legwork.

Brian, there’s an effort to do a low carbon fuel standard in MN. I’ve heard some groups are trying to cook the books against ethanol… not counting CO2 reductions or adding bogus carbon penalties. What’s going on and where do you see the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) push going in 2023?

We’ve been at the table as part of a coalition of groups trying to find consensus on what a Midwest LCFS should look like. Legislation was introduced last session and we expect it again this session. MN Bio-Fuels certainly sees the potential in a Midwest LCFS. But we need to get the details right. We’ve all seen the sheer number of regulatory notices from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to understand how complex implementing an LCFS can be, and we’ve seen that the rulemaking process often leaves too many policy details up to environmental regulators or administrations that don’t have ethanol’s best interests in mind. Now in Minnesota, we have a Governor that represented a rural district in the House and who understands and supports ethanol, but that might not always be the case.

Last session, the bill with agreed upon language was amended in the house with language that would include nitrate water runoff in the lifecycle assessment in order to appease environmentally aligned legislators. Those changes are not something we can support. Now this session, as you noted, there have been further efforts to restrict credit generation from carbon capture and storage (CCS) and give the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sole authority to implement the program. 

These provisions don’t work for us and diminish the chances of any bill getting signed into law in 2023. Instead, we would prefer that Gov. Walz get more engaged in the discussion and bring everyone together to craft something reasonable that doesn’t point the finger at ethanol and agriculture, but instead recognizes and incentivizes the benefits of low-carbon ethanol and nutrient best management practices (BMPs). 

Brian, what is the legislative focus for MN Bio-Fuels at the Capitol this year?

This year, our main priorities are three-fold. 

1. Increasing investment in higher blend infrastructure 

2. Seeking air permitting efficiency

3. Ensuring that any LCFS policy in Minnesota works for the industry

On the first, Gov. Walz did provide for an increase in biofuel infrastructure funding in his budget - $9 million over the next biennium. 

We also continue to push for a dedicated, consistent funding source for infrastructure upgrades. After the E15 bill collapsed in 2021, we’ve been working with the MN Petroleum Marketers on a compromise solution. Our bill would create an account to reimburse stations through a petroleum fee. It is estimated to provide over $50 million per year.