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Klobuchar, ethanol supporters rally in Atwater ahead of EPA decision

Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, urged ethanol supporters to fight against a reduction in Renewable Fuel Standard. He was among over 60 people who gathered at the Bushmills Ethanol plant near Atwater to meet with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

ATWATER — With the finish line only one week away, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is hopeful that the chequered flag could still be waved for Minnesota’s ethanol industry.

She joined Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and more than 60 ethanol supporters Monday at Bushmills Ethanol in Atwater in a final rally for a letter campaign aimed at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Ethanol’s supporters have until Jan. 28 to offer comments to the EPA on its proposal to reduce the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard by 10 percent, or 1.4 billion gallons in 2014.

The reduction would cut demand for Minnesota-made ethanol by 110 million gallons, or more than the equivalent of the annual output of the state’s largest plant, according to Frederickson. The Department of Agriculture estimates Minnesota would suffer $610 million in lost economic activity, including more than 1,500 jobs.  The RFS issue is about maintaining market share, not the environment, according to Erik Osmon, general manager of the Bushmills plan.  

Klobuchar said that point was made to Gina McCarthy, EPA director.

“She never made one argument that it is about environmental issues,’’ said Klobuchar of a meeting she arranged with the EPA director. Klobuchar was joined by 15 other senators, evenly split between the parties.

Speaking of McCarthy, Klobuchar said: “She signaled a really strong willingness to look at this rule again and see what changes can be made. And that is what the comment period is all about.’’

Klobuchar said she and fellow Minnesota Senator Al Franken also had the opportunity to make the case for maintaining the current RFS to President Barack Obama during a White House meeting on legislative issues.

She had little trouble making the case to the supportive audience at Bushmills. She told her audience that ethanol has done what was asked of it and helped reduce our dependence on foreign oil while providing a clean fuel.

The Senator also warned that reducing the RFS at this time would discourage the development of cellulosic and other, second stage biofuels.

Bushmills General Manager Osmon said the economic importance of ethanol is felt well beyond the farm. The Bushmills plant employs 37 people with a payroll of $3.5 million. The company spends approximately $5 million a year in Willmar, not including its corn purchases, he noted.

Frederickson and the Department of Agriculture began visiting all of Minnesota’s ethanol plants three weeks ago to launch the campaign.

Klobuchar also optimistic about Farm Bill approval U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joined colleagues who are expressing optimism that Congress will soon approve a Farm Bill.

“I’m more positive than ever about getting this farm bill out,’’ said Klobuchar during a visit to the Bushmills Ethanol plant near Atwater on Monday.

Klobuchar said the main sticking point at this point is the dairy provision.

She said that while a new bill will cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Act Program, or food stamps, the cuts should not affect Minnesota.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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