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As Minnesota explores a clean fuel standard, there's pushback against ag

State agencies have been meeting with stakeholder groups, including farm groups. A report will be sent to Gov. Tim Walz in February.

Silos and other components of an ethanol plant, along with several vehicles.
Ethanol plants like Otter Tail Ag Enterprises at Fergus Falls, Minnesota, could see a big impact from a clean fuel standard in Minnesota.
File photo
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota is exploring the possibility of joining the likes of California by creating a clean fuel standard to help reduce the state’s carbon score.

Multiple state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, have been gathering comments and information on reducing greenhouse gases from eight stakeholder groups, which includes an agriculture and rural areas group.

“We're taking a big tent approach to this,” Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner on sustainability and public health at the Department of Transportation said during a recent online public input session.

The information and comments are being gathered into a report that will be sent to Gov. Tim Walz in February.

Andrea Vaubel, deputy commissioner for the Ag Department, said in an interview that the report won’t be making any recommendations on whether or not the state should proceed with a clean fuel standard. Instead it will identify some shared principles among the stakeholder groups and identify questions that will need to be answered.

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After that, “we’re not quite sure what the next steps will be,” Vaubel said.

If there is a push for a Clean Fuel Standard, it would likely mean legislative action and what could be a lengthy rule-making process, both of which would offer more time for public input.

A clean fuel standard could benefit agriculture in multiple ways, such as incentives for climate-friendly farm practices to promoting biofuels.

Vaubel said any plan would have a “level playing field for all fuels,” and would need to take a diverse approach.

But there has been some pushback against ag and biofuels.

“We did hear concerns about biofuels in general with other groups,” Vaubel said.

A letter from 22 environmental groups to Sexton and Vaubel earlier this month, read, in part:

“While a clean fuel standard may hold promise for reducing transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, it also poses potential risks to our state's water quality, habitat, pollinators and public health by incentivizing further conversion of natural areas to row-crop acreage for the production of corn ethanol (which already consumes 40% of Minnesota's corn crop)."

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Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, said the stakeholder meetings were a good chance to hear concerns about ag and try to clear up some misinformaton.

"There was a lot of misundersanding," Rudnicki said.

Vaubel said what is termed as indirect land use change has been a big topic in other states that have adopted a clean fuel standard. Those states include California, Oregon and Washington, while New Mexico, New York and others also have clean fuel standards in the works.

Rudnicki said the biofuels industry can show with U.S. Department of Agriculture data that corn production has increased through better yields and not tilling more acres.

Vaubel said a Minnesota standard would be unique to the state’s economy, geography and culture, keeping in mind the "really strong agricultural economy that we have.”

She said there also has been talk about working with other states on a regional approach.

“Minnesota’s always been a leader,” Vaubel said. “If we can do this right I think we have some really good opportunities for ag.”

Rudnicki said that if written correctly, a clean fuel standard could be a "win-win all around for ag community and renewable fuels," as well as cutting greenhouse gasses.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURECROPSTIM WALZ
Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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