By Timothy J.Rudnicki, Esq
Just as individuals have multiple issues of interest to them, so too do candidates for political office represent multiple issues and interests. For voters who have a keen interest in biofuel issues, such as the future of ethanol, it's important they ask candidates for office where they stand on their support for biofuels. More importantly, voters need to ask pointed questions to get beyond the sound bites and, after the election, voters will need to hold their elected officials accountable for their claims while running for office.
All too often candidates claim they support biofuels by reading a script which contains some magic words such as : the RFS, the blend wall and regulations. For those Minnesotans who support the ethanol industry and the renewable fuel it produces to boost the economy, reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, save consumers money at the fuel dispenser and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, you can put your probing questions skills to work at candidate forums leading up to the Minnesota caucuses on March 1.
First, you should have a few facts at your fingertips. You should know that the RFS is working in Minnesota. Thanks to the RFS and its counterpart law in Minnesota, the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association has the new and fresh opportunity to engage with thousands of fuel retailers and to work with them to make E15 and higher blends of ethanol available to their customers.
The RFS and its Minnesota counterpart have also helped to boost the economy. In 2014, for example, the ethanol industry contributed more than $2.34 billion to the economy while supporting over 18,000 jobs. Meanwhile, E15 is selling for approximately 10 cents less per gallon compared to regular unleaded. In addition to the economic boost and savings provided for consumers, ethanol is helping to lower GHG emissions in the transportation sector. Equally important is the fact these benefits have room to grow under the RFS. Replacing regular fuel with E15 can reduce the annual carbon emissions in Minnesota by an estimated 1.07 million metric tons (equal to taking 225,895 vehicles off Minnesota highways for a year).
As for the blend wall issue, thanks to the RFS and its Minnesota counterpart, in 2014, Minnesota was using 12.2 percent ethanol in its transportation fuel. The mythical 10 percent blend wall is just that - a myth. Remember, the RFS calls for using "at least the applicable volume of renewable fuel" set forth in the law.
Finally, when it comes to regulations, let's be smart. It's too easy for political candidates to lodge some general complaint about regulations in the hopes of getting our attention. We need to be clear with candidates about which regulations act as artificial barriers to biofuels and focus on repairing them. A vibrant industry is being built upon our system of statutes and rules. We need to be strategic in industry efforts to improve those laws which have helped to make Minnesota and the Nation more energy independent, save consumers money at the fuel dispenser, boost the economy and improve environmental quality.
Second, once we have some facts in hand, we need to use them to have meaningful and constructive discussions with candidates running for office. Generally, does the candidate actually understand the good benefits that have been produced for communities in Minnesota, consumers and the environment based on some of the facts noted above? Test their knowledge about the tangible benefits of the RFS and how it has helped Minnesotans.
After you ask the candidate where they stand on the RFS, take your probing questions to the next level. When a candidate says she or he supports the RFS, dig deeper to get them to tell you what it means to support the RFS. For instance, would the candidate, as the President or a Member of Congress, work to aggressively support the RFS as written? Will Congressional candidates, if elected, fight for the RFS in Committees and on the House floor (note: no US Senators from Minnesota are up for election this year)? Will the presidential candidate veto any bill which attempts to modify the RFS?
You might also test the candidates' knowledge, or educate them, with some follow-up questions. For example, if they support the RFS, what do they see as the future for biofuels beyond 2022? Find out what they know about the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership program. Would they expand it or do they have some ideas for making E15 and higher blends available across Minnesota and the Nation? Are they familiar with the E15 Dispenser Law in Minnesota and how funding will be used to help fuel retailers make the minor upgrades necessary so they can offer E15 as the new regular fuel?