Reinvigorating Renewable Energy in Southern Minnesota

  • Friday, 09 December 2016 09:50

Daily Globe

December 7, 2016

By Representative Tim Walz

Following a bipartisan letter my colleagues and I sent on July 13 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Obama Administration made a momentous decision affecting both US energy policy and the rural economy. On Nov. 23, the EPA released its 2017 volume obligations for transportation fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and to the relief of rural America, the RFS is back on track.

After calling on the administration to aggressively expand the production of renewable fuels to levels consistent with congressional intent, the EPA reversed its initial proposal to cut RFS volumes and instead increased the 2017 target for ethanol by 200 million gallons, bringing it in line with the 15 billion gallon per year target in the RFS law. The final rule also increased the target for advanced biofuels by 280 million gallons.

I would argue that this decision, while not as high-profile as the Paris Climate Accord, is more consequential to Minnesota’s First District.

The RFS, first introduced in 2005 and expanded in 2007, is the most significant program ever established by Congress aimed at invigorating rural economies, achieving energy independence and tackling the threat of climate change.

For climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the equation is fairly simple: renewable transportation fuels emit less carbon than gas. Thus, at a time when the administration is clamping down on emissions and placing regulatory burdens on power plants to reign in carbon, it only made sense for the EPA to drop its misguided proposal in favor of increased renewable fuel volume obligations. The emission reductions that will result constitute another step in the right direction towards tackling the threat of climate change.

Similarly consequential is the significant economic impact of the RFS. The RFS has helped employers create thousands of jobs and jumpstarted local economies throughout the country. In the ethanol industry alone, the RFS has contributed to nearly 400,000 American jobs, bringing in more than $44 billion in economic activity. Today there are at least 211 ethanol bio-refineries across the country and new biofuel production facilities are in the works that will create even more jobs. The final 2017 RFS volumes will undoubtedly protect and expand this economic engine by spurring even more ethanol production.

Finally, the economic benefits of the RFS are significant, but equally as significant is the achievement of these benefits while at the same time lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Instead of sending our hard earned dollars out of the country to buy fossil fuels, we are drawing in investments from countries across the globe interested in supporting a renewable economic success story. In fact, since the creation of the RFS in 2005, America’s dependence on foreign oil has dropped by 45 percent.  The administration’s newly minted rule will help Minnesota’s ethanol producers continue to advance American energy security.

The EPA’s final rule fosters the RFS’ three distinct and important benefits: rural economic invigoration, energy independence and reduction of GHGs. I support the Administration’s November 23 decision and, as I have persistently done so in the past, I will continue to fight for a robust RFS that maintains congressional intent to promote these benefits.

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