Minnesota’s new Biofuels Council is a worthy effort

Source: By Editorial Board, Rochester Post Bulletin • Posted: Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz -– working together with state commodity leaders –- is helping to build a better future by creating the Biofuels Council.

The council is part of a toolbox that will help the governor’s effort to make Minnesota the nation’s leader in biofuels innovation and production. It’s a worthy and reachable goal as the nation and world move away from over-dependence on fossil fuels.

The symbolism of announcing the council’s creation in late September near Plato, Minn., with a corn field as a backdrop was readily apparent. The governor will need the support of urban and rural lawmakers if the effort will be successful.

It’s been a tough year on commodity producers, with widespread struggles in fields and with fickle federal energy policy. President Trump’s decision to routinely grant ethanol production waivers has caused marketplace turmoil without any significant pushback from Congress.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad -– before he left the state to become ambassador to China -– tried something similar when he launched an effort to transform the state into the nation’s leader in biotechnology. The effort, which has lost traction since he left state office in May 2017, but was praise-worthy for its vision.

Walz’s determination should have greater staying power because agriculture and agribusinesses are major stakeholders.

The Biofuels Council will have 15 members from agriculture, biofuels and the transportation industry, which is crucial for it to succeed.

Walz apparently understands biofuels’ importance to the state’s economy. He penned a letter to the Trump administration last month urging it to limit the number of waivers it grants to oil refiners, allowing them to ignore federal mandates that they blend their fuel with ethanol. While the waivers please the conglomerates that dominate the fossil-fuel industry, it does harm to farmers and biofuel producers.

Walz, who is convinced without any concrete evidence that bipartisan support exists in the House and Senate to limit waivers, is optimistic. However, GOP lawmakers overwhelmingly reject mandates of most any kind and the Democratic majority in the House have foolishly bought into the argument that ethanol and biofuels, at best, offer minimal environmental benefits.

Immediate action is necessary to stem the recent spate of ethanol plant closures and job losses in Minnesota and South Dakota. There is a great danger if the waivers continue to be freely granted.

The nation must have a serious discussion about energy policy. Governmental policy, since Henry Ford’s first car rolled off the assembly line, has been marked by brief attempts to encourage renewable energy and long periods when fossil fuel had monopoly control.

Come to think of it, Ford’s first Model T autos were hemp powered. The Model T’s interior also featured cloth made from hemp. Biofuels, along with industrial hemp production, is rooted in history. Ford said his car had “been grown from the soil.’’

Kudos to Walz for taking the initiative to build a more sustainable future by creating the Biofuels Council.