FAIRMONT - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., donned sneakers and a hard hat Thursday for a tour of Green Plains Fairmont.
Klobuchar sandwiched the visit to the ethanol plant in between a Women in Manufacturing gathering at AGCO in Jackson and a stop in Lewisville.
"It's an honor and privilege to have you come by today," Jim Stark, vice president of investments and media relations for Green Plains Inc., told Klobuchar. "Thank you for your unwavering support of ethanol."
"The issue is the EPA ruling; it's been put on hold for a while," Klobuchar said.
The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed making ethanol blending requirements for fuel refiners. This renewable fuel standard requires gradually increasing volumes of renewable fuel, like ethanol, to be blended into transportation fuel in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Steve Bleyl, executive vice president of ethanol marketing, explained the $30 million "Prime the Pump" campaign. The joint venture of ethanol producers and big agriculture focuses on persuading retailers to put in more gas pumps with an ethanol blend.
In spite of the EPA ruling issues, 2014 was a good year for ethanol, with the blend economics very strong, Bleyl said.
Klobuchar, who serves on the Senate Commerce Committee that deals with railroads and trains, inquired about the shipping methods and destinations for Fairmont-produced ethanol.
About once a week, a train with a minimum of 80 cars leaves Green Plains Fairmont, according to Jon Richardson, plant manager.
The primary export point for the shipment is Houston, Texas, where the biofuel is loaded on to tankers headed for the Philippines and Brazil.
"Exports are crucial to our survival," noted Bleyl.
The Green Plains team led Klobuchar and her staff on a brief, but informative tour of the plant.
When Green Plains bought the plant in November 2013, the installation was idled. Now it processes 41 million bushels of corn annually and has the capacity to produce 115 million gallons of ethanol and 14 tons of corn oil each year.
"We've invested in an additional $6 million in upgrades," Stark said. "This plant has zero discharge for wastewater."
Klobuchar asked about the availability of the workforce.
"We have 60 employees," said Richardson, adding that there currently is one job opening. "We were able to bring back 85 percent of the original work crew."
When the plant had ceased production, many of those employees had secured other jobs, but came back when Green Plains fired up production again.
"Fairmont has a very strong background in manufacturing," Klobuchar noted.