By Tim Rudnicki, Esq
Just a few days ago the National Conference of State Legislatures convened policymakers from across the country in Minneapolis. Several thousand legislators, legislative committee staffers and other interested observers of public policy development listened to presentations from a variety of subject matter experts on topics ranging from education to health care to energy to name just a few.
The purpose of the National Conference of State Legislatures is to create a venue in which policymakers can exchange ideas on some of the most pressing issues confronting states including on matters involving energy.
When it came to the issue of energy, however, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) fell flat in its efforts to stimulate the exchange of ideas about energy and, in particular, renewable energy such as biofuels. Based on the energy sessions I attended, the mantra was the three "F's": fossil fuels and fracking.
Although one keynote presenter acknowledged biofuels can play some role in meeting the need for liquid transportation fuels, a golden opportunity to make the case for biofuels was missed. For those who follow the biofuel industry in Minnesota and in other parts of the United States, the evidence is clear: biofuels provide significant benefits for the environment, consumers, the economy and in the drive toward greater energy independence.
If a picture is worth 1000 words, the images in the NCSL’s glossy energy policy guide tells only part of the energy story. One can find photos of drilling rigs, cooling towers associated with electricity generation, rail tank cars, photovoltaics and wind turbines. Arguably some of the photos, such as the wind turbines and photovoltaics, suggest an energy policy might include renewable energy. But neither the text nor the photographs hint at a farm field or a biofuel plant. And there are no charts showing the dramatic decrease in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels compared to petroleum.
Interestingly, one of the energy plan goals refers to developing energy independence. Unfortunately, while the suggested plan makes reference to decreasing a State's dependence on foreign and out-of-state energy sources, the example cited to accmplish this goal is to use the natural gas resources rather than, for instance, other renewables such as corn starch or plant residue.
I cite these examples in the hope that we can further expand a conversation about the role of biofuels in Minnesota, across the Midwest and throughout the nation. I challenge them to have a conversation with policy makers to further explore creative ways in which we can introduce higher volumes of biofuels to consumers in the marketplace. We have lots to talk about as Minnesota is starting to lead the way on helping fuel retailers make E15 available to consumers.
If I could make one suggestion to the NCSL, it would be this: let’s open up future discussions about planning for the energy future by affirmatively presenting the full scope of benefits offered by biofuels. Let’s share with other state policymakers some of the innovative approaches Minnesota is taking to lessen dependence on finite fossil fuels, obtain environmental benefits, pump more dollars into the economy and help consumers save money at the pump. While not every state can replicate the progress we are making in Minnesota to offer consumers more biofuels, a more balanced discussion about renewable energy policies could expand vocabularies to include the “b” word: Biofuels.