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Ag Commissioner builds support for Renewable Fuel Standard

Minnesota Ag Commisioner Dave Fredrickson visits with City Manager Blaine Hill, Jim Rentz and Warren Anderson after a meeting in Morris Monday to discuss Minnesota’s biofuels industry and the impact of a reduction in the volume of the Renewable Fuels Standard. (Sue Dieter/Sun Tribune)1 / 2
A group of about 30 people met with Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Fredrickson Monday at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris to discuss the local impact of an EPA ruling on the Renewable Fuel Standard. 2 / 2

MORRIS – Ethanol is up against big oil and Minnesota’s Agriculture Commissioner says the best weapon in ethanol’s defense is a pen and paper.

Ag Commissioner Dave Fredrickson told a group of about 30 people in Morris on Monday that Minnesota’s renewable fuel supporters need to send at least 100,000 letters to Gina McCarthy, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, urging her to drop the proposal to reduce the renewable fuels standard (RFS).

McCarthy has proposed reducing the RFS by 10 percent. The reduction would represent a $610 million loss in economic activity in Minnesota and a reduction of 110 million gallons of ethanol production for the state. 

“It bothers me to think that major oil companies think of this as their market,” said Fredrickson. “It is not their market. We have a slice of it – 10 percent –  maybe a little better, maybe a little less at times. But that means oil companies have 90 percent... Who said they should have 90 percent of this market? This issue is about market share and we need to keep this in mind as we move forward.”

Mick Miller, general manager of DENCO II in Morris, told the group that the ethanol plant grinds about eight million bushels of corn annually, mostly from within 25 to 30 mile radius of Morris. In 2013, they spent $45 million buying grain to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol. The plant has 32 full time employees, paying about $2 million in salary and benefits each year.

Miller said they also spend about a half a million dollars locally in goods and services such as plumbers, electricians, attorney fees and consumables.

Miller said the industry has been working to produce more and more ethanol with less water and energy inputs.

“We believe the EPA should be looking forward and not taking a backward step,” he said. “This is very important locally.”

Miller expressed gratitude that Fredrickson has taken up this fight. The former state senator and farmer from Murdock has long been a champion for renewable fuels and helped draft the state’s ethanol mandate. 

“Our vision [in 1987] was pretty limited. We thought if we could figure out a way to get ten ethanol plants each producing 10 million gallons” we’d have it made, Fredrickson said.

Fredrickson stressed that when the renewable fuels industry was getting underway in Minnesota, there were four pillars of its foundation: air quality; creating jobs for places like Morris, Benson and Willmar; reducing our dependency on foreign oil; and figuring out a way to add value to farmers’ crops. 

“I can go back to 1987 when we started developing an ethanol program in Minnesota,” said Fredrickson. “I guarantee you, every suit and tie that was for hire in St. Paul stood in line to beat down the ethanol mandate that we chose to move forward with. And without that, I know lots of folks don’t like mandates, I don’t like bad mandates. This was a good one for us, particularly those who were raising corn across the state of Minnesota. We were able to add value to our product, and we were able to move forward with that. But it’s being threatened. The EPA administrator has chosen to dial it back by 10 percent. That is about 110 million gallons of ethanol that we would produce here in the state.”

“That’s sending the wrong message,” Fredrickson said. “It’s sending the wrong message to your lending institutions that have stepped up to the plate time and time again to assist farmers in sometimes a rather dicey venture, but it’s turned out to be the right venture. Our voices need to be united. Right now, the only game in town is to write letters. I’m literally appealing to all of you to pick up pen and pencil.”

Fredrickson and his staff provided copies of a letter to be sent to the EPA. 

“Form letters are fine,” he said, “Better than no letter at all. Our hope is that you’ll do that, sign your name to the form letter. But then turn it over and give a paragraph or two on how it affects you on a very personal level.”

Many in Congress continue to support the current RFS. Staff for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and Sen. Amy Klobuchar supported Fredrickson’s letter writing campaign. 

Andy Martin, legislative staffer for Klobuchar, shared that the senator has been very engaged in this issue.

 “About two or three weeks ago, she met with the EPA administrator in  her office, and invited her Senate colleagues to come into that meeting,” Martin said. “About 16 senators, a bipartisan group from all across the U.S., talking about this rule being a bad idea to pull the rug out from this industry just as when things are getting to be so good.”

Martin agreed that the EPA needs to hear from rural Minnesota and urged letter-writers to talk about specifics and what it means for downtown businesses, plumbers, electricians, and rural co-ops.

Congressman Peterson’s senior economic development officer Toni Merdan echoed that advice.  She said Peterson has always been a big supporter of ethanol and wishes the mandate was for more than 10 percent. She said the congressman has visited with White House more than a few times on this issue. She noted that the whole Minnesota congressional delegation is engaged in this issue and having constituents send letters would help them in their fight. 

Fredrickson suggested that anyone who sends a letter to the EPA should also send a copy to Peterson’s and Klobuchar’s office. 

Fredrickson stressed that the letters need to reach the EPA director by a Jan. 28 deadline.

In addition to the stop in Morris, Fredrickson was in Fergus Falls and Benson on Monday. 

He expects to wind up his visits to the state’s ethanol plants in the coming week. He will attend a rural summit being hosted by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Jan. 23 in Des Moines, Iowa, to address the RFS issue.