Chaired by Sen. Smith (D-MN), the hearing featured testimony from three Minnesota witnesses
WASHINGTON – At a Senate Agriculture subcommittee hearing on rural economies chaired by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) engaged with three Minnesota witnesses on the need to invest in renewable energy sources. The Honorable Katie Sieben, Chairwoman of Minnesota Public Utilities in St. Paul, Mr. Shannon Schlecht, Executive Director of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute in Crookston, and St. Paul native Ms. Emily Skor, Chief Executive Officer of Growth Energy, all testified on the benefits of renewable energy for producers and consumers.
Klobuchar also called attention to the importance of upholding the renewable fuel standard (RFS), asking Skor if there is evidence that oil refiners are suffering from economic hardship as a result of the RFS. “Absolutely not,” Skor responded. “There is no correlation to the price of complying with the RFS and refinery profits.”
Last week, Klobuchar led a letter with 15 colleagues to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Economic Council (NEC) expressing concern about reports that the Biden administration is considering options to exempt oil refiners from their obligations under the Clean Air Act’s RFS.
In February, Klobuchar and Senator John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Adopt GREET Act which would require the EPA to update its greenhouse gas modeling for ethanol and biodiesel.
Klobuchar: Well, thank you very much to my colleague Senator Smith for your leadership on this subcommittee and also for having the wisdom to put so many Minnesotans on the panel. I’ll start out with the environmental benefits of biofuels which I think gets overlooked and misunderstood a lot. And I’ll ask this of you, Mrs. Skor: there’s a recent study, of course, from Harvard -- I consider that the University of Minnesota of the East -- showing the environmental benefits. Senator Thune and I introduced a bill to direct the agency to update its modeling standards to reflect the latest science, and they’re supposed to be updated. How would ensuring the EPA is accurately accounting for the emissions from ethanol and biodiesel incentivize higher blends?
Skor: Senator, thank you for the question and thank you for the bill, and we hope that this bill does become law. We have ethanol plants today who are producing cellulosic advanced biofuel which have significantly higher greenhouse gas reduction above the standard 46 percent and they also bring additional value to the markets which also always come back to the farmer. However, these pathways are not approved because EPA is using not the right kind of modeling and so it's very important when we look at how EPA evaluates any policy moving forward, whether it's the RFS or whether it’s looking at future carbon policy, they have to use the most up to date science that is reflecting the innovations taking place in the plant and in the field as well.
Klobuchar: Thank you. Thank you. That's why I was so disappointed with some of the recent reports that the administration is considering -- and you know we don't know if it's true -- exempting oil refineries from the RFS obligations and lowering the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended. I recently led a letter with 14 leaders in Congress urging them to reject those actions. Mr. Schlecht, can you briefly talk about the impact that exempting oil refiners from their RFS obligations would have in Minnesota and across the country?
Schlecht: Thank you, Senator Klobuchar. The RFS is absolutely a critical -- a critical standard for being highly impactful for supporting renewables, renewable energy industry, as well as rural economies. As I look at our work with ethanol companies and biodiesel companies around the state, the impact that it has on corn producers, as well as on the rural economies, is absolutely that vital infrastructure that provides them the means to look at new innovation opportunities to remain resilient as they continue going forward and look at adopting these new practices that meet new lower carbon needs for consumers that are being demanded in the marketplace. So it's an absolutely critical element, we highly support the RFS, and our stakeholders as well -- and appreciate the question.
Klobuchar: Thank you. Mrs. Skor, just quickly, is there any evidence that oil refiners are suffering from economic hardship right now as a result of the RFS?
Skor: Absolutely not. There is no correlation to the price of complying with the RFS and refinery profits.
Skor: This is something that has been affirmed by many experts including the EPA several times.
Klobuchar: Okay. One large barrier is the fact that we've got not enough biofuel infrastructure, there's been a lot of people trying to block that that want to stop biofuels from hitting the market in a big way. Senator Ernst and I just introduced a bill to make permanent a USDA program that has been successful in expanding market access for biofuels by installing new blender pumps. I guess Mrs. Skor, Mr. Schlecht, one of you, how can investments in biofuel infrastructure help?
Skor: Senator, thank you for the bill. We absolutely support this. We have seen with previous programs of investment through the USDA that those investments in infrastructure really help us have access to the markets. And we need consumers to be able to access these low carbon, renewable fuels in all 50 states, at every fueling station. We know that retailers need the incentive, the infrastructure support. So as we look, as congress looks at investing in all types of clean energy, we've got to make sure we are incentivising the use of low carbon biofuels.
Klobuchar: Thank you. One last question to my friend, Ms. Seiben out there. Rural wind energy, from your perspective, in working with rural communities. How does expanding renewable energy generation capacity benefit not just big entities but small farms as well?
Sieben: Thank you for the question, Senator Klobuchar. As we've seen in Minnesota, renewable energy, especially wind projects, have created tremendous economic development opportunities for small communities. We are seeing the impacts of increased hiring of local workers, which leads to more careers in the renewable energy sector. We're also seeing increased manufacturing domestically of wind turbines and solar panel components. Combined with the tax benefits that come from renewable energy projects, it really is a holistic, helpful way to improve rural economies across Minnesota. As I said earlier though, what we really need in Minnesota especially is more transmissions. As of January, there are 533 projects -- renewable energy projects primarily -- waiting to connect in the MISO queue, which total over 15 gigawatts of projects. So once again, investment in transmission will really help our rural economies and connect these renewable energy projects.
Klobuchar: Alright. Well, thank you very much and again thank you, Senator Smith, for this great hearing.
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