By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq
Whether Governor Mark Dayton will call a special legislative session, at the time this column is written, remains open to speculation. But, we do know that 1,652 bills were introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives and 1,414 bills were introduced in the Minnesota Senate in the recently concluded legislative session. And it may surprise some but some of those bills if passed would have either directly or indirectly lowered or raised market barriers to ethanol and renewable chemicals.
We were, once again, active on two fronts as we (1) worked to advance legislation aimed at strengthening the biofuel and renewable chemical industry in Minnesota and (2) played offense by tracking, monitoring and “fixing” or opposing bills which could be detrimental to the biofuel industry in Minnesota.
To determine a bill’s relevance, MBA uses a two-prong approach. First, we look for bills that explicitly reference ethanol and biofuels generally. Then we assess whether the bills are helpful, act as a barrier or are neutral and take metered action.
The second prong consists of a deeper dive into the bill's language. For example, we assess various bill provisions and whether they could impact, either in a positive, negative or neutral manner, legal definitions, renewable ingredients and other production inputs, business-related issues and rail transportation issues, to name a few. Our assessment informed the engagement process. Based on our assessment, at least 24 bills introduced during the 2016 Legislative Session had some touch point with biofuels and biochemcials or their production and distribution in Minnesota and other markets.
Let’s briefly examine two of those 24 bills and what happened behind the scenes.
Changing a state or federal definition of biofuels has profound implications for biofuel and biochemical producers, the supply chain and consumers. In other words, the implications, especially when the definition is embedded in many other statutes, stretch far and wide. One such bill involved the definition of biobutanol.
The purpose of the bill provision at issue, according to its proponents and the Senate sponsor, was to secure producer payments for renewable biochemicals. In its first iteration, the bill changed the legal definition to make the end product fit the producer payment criteria. Given the implications of such a change, following discussions and a review of the existing law, stakeholders found an agreeable, transparent solution: rather than changing the legal definition, simply make biobutanol eligible for the payments.
That change is embodied in a much larger set of appropriation provisions found in Chapter 189 which was presented to Gov. Dayton on May 24. As of this writing, the Governor has not signed nor vetoed the bill.
Another example of our two-prong approach involves catching an energy security bill spearheaded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The bill, in its initial form, essentially called for an inventory of Minnesota’s energy sources. It noted the role of petroleum and biofuels but in the fuels inventory provisions, the bill included petroleum gasoline but excluded biofuels. Given this bill’s history, although it did not pass out of the 2016 legislature, we can expect to see it in 2017. We can work with the department to improve the bill by, for example, explicitly including E15 and E85 in the inventory and perhaps defining the greater role E85 and E15 can play in further diversifying Minnesota’s transportation fuel.
This behind the scene look at the Minnesota Legislature provides just a few examples of how the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association continually strives to help strengthen the biofuel industry in Minnesota and give consumers more choice at the fuel dispenser.