Franken says he’ll fight cuts to ethanol mandate

Source: Derek Sullivan, Rochester Post Bulletin • Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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Joe Michaud-Scorza /

Sen. Al Franken shakes hands with Ryan Buck, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Saturday at the Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery in Spring Valley.

SPRING VALLEY — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken met with area farmers on Saturday to show his disappointment with proposed rules that would lower the amount of ethanol that could be added to gasoline.

Last fall, a group of U.S. House members sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, asking that the ethanol mandate be reduced in 2014. According to the Associated Press, the letter warns that increasing the amount of ethanol in the fuel supply will damage car engines.

Franken stopped Saturday afternoon at Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery to tell members of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, other area farmers and ethanol supporters that he has met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. He also has written to President Barack Obama and spoken to him directly to express opposition to any cuts to the Renewable Fuel Standards that would reduce the total amount of ethanol blended into gasoline supplies.

“I told him that he’s from Illinois, a state that has a big corn crop, and that the proposed RFS rules are going in the wrong direction,” Franken told the crowd. “This is exactly the wrong time to send this message. We can’t tell corn farmers that we’re not going to extend the RFS for ethanol and biodiesel.”

Franken said he continues to hear ethanol opponents say the infrastructure isn’t there for ethanol.

“The infrastructure isn’t there for ethanol because the gas station franchise owners get punished for putting in blender pumps. So this is, as far as I’m concerned, a conflict of interest,” Franken told the crowd.

Franken added that Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have considered going to the Federal Trade Commission to put a stop to gas companies who make life difficult for business owners who use blender pumps. Franken said both Democrats and Republicans are lining up to help ethanol farmers.

“This is truly a bipartisan issue,” he said.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association has asked farmers to write to President Obama and the EPA. On the organization’s website, it warns members that, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a 1.4 billion gallon reduction in how much corn ethanol will be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal law that helps get domestic, renewable, cleaner-burning corn ethanol blended in the nation’s fuel supply. If implemented, this misguided proposal would raise gas prices and seriously damage the rural economy.”

“We are just perplexed why this administration, this EPA, would roll this back,” said Tim Gerlach, the CEO/executive director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “We’re very glad that the U.S. is producing more oil. It’s good for our economy and national security and all of the fundamentals in place. Ethanol helps the environment.”

Gerlach added that ethanol helps 28 states around the county.

“We are all in favor of renewal fuel standards,” he said. “Every state is a little different, but this policy is something Minnesota farmers have fought a long time for.”

Kathy King, a farmer in rural Rochester since 1970, told the crowd that ethanol plants, such as the ones in Lyle and Claremont, bring jobs to rural areas. King said half of her family’s corn crop is sold to the Absolute Energy ethanol plant in Lyle.

Whenever proposals are made to the EPA, there is a 60-day comment period. The window for this issue ends on Jan. 28. Gerlach said his organization already has sent 7,000 letters. Franken asked the crowd if they have not written a letter yet to do so and to tell their own story inside the letter.

Farm bill

In addition to the discussion on renewable fuels, Franken also updated the crowd on the farm bill. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has said he would like the farm bill voted on by the House by the end of January. The Senate passed a farm bill in 2013.

“I’m very optimistic and hopeful, anyway,” Franken said. “When I talk to the leaders on this, such as Colin Peterson, the leader in the House, I hear that he’s very frustrated because he knows we are about there, but it has been going on for too long.

Franken said he recently has talked with the two ranking members of the Senate Ag Committee, chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich,, and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and was told that passage of a farm bill is days away.

“Minnesota farms don’t just want a five-year bill, they need a five-year bill,” Franken said.