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Continued: Minnesota farmers see 'Big Oil' behind new ethanol rule

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 13, 2014 - 10:39 PM

U.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Collin Peterson, both Democrats from rural Minnesota districts, have panned the lower targets. Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, called the EPA move “very disappointing.” Walz, a negotiator on the farm bill, said it would “weaken an emerging industry.”

The three Minnesota Republicans in the U.S. House have remained silent on the rule so far. None responded last week to requests for comment.

But the proposal has bipartisan support elsewhere in Congress. Michigan Republican Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the proposed rule “would alleviate immediate pressure on the looming blend wall.”

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman of California, said the Obama plan “thoughtfully addresses” the challenge of integrating increasing levels of ethanol into a shrinking gasoline pool.

And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former governor of corn-rich Iowa, cast the proposal as part of a “long-term approach” to managing the growth of ­ethanol in fuel.

‘Always on the defense’

Barring any legal action, the new EPA standards could be made final in the spring, after a 60-day public comment period.

Minnesota corn growers still hope to jettison the plan, arguing that it could threaten the future of the state’s 21 ethanol plants, including two that are closed but that are expected to reopen. While some environmentalists have grown ambivalent about the ecological benefits of ethanol production, which consumes land and energy, the industry has found some new allies on the left.

Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, a pro-Obama group, came out strongly this week against the change, saying “we need to make sure we offset the money of Big Oil.”

The group vowed to mount a grass-roots effort along with VoteVets.org to equate support for biofuels with support for the troops, since it’s an alternative to imported oil.

For Demmer, who farms about 900 acres of corn and soybeans in southern Minnesota, the debate is about his livelihood, which depends on healthy markets for both food and biofuels. The industry always has had its skeptics, he said, but now it’s embattled like never before.

“It seems like we’re always on the defense,” he said. “But we do have a good story to tell.”

 

Follow Kevin Diaz on Twitter: @StribDiaz

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