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Capitol Chatter: It’s truckers vs. farmers on biodiesel mandate

ST. PAUL — Adding something to a petroleum-based fuel always has been controversial, so it should be no surprise that soybean-based biodiesel brings disputes.

“It’s blatantly unfair and costly to the trucking industry,” President John Hausladen of the Minnesota Trucking Association said about a law that took effect Tuesday requiring diesel fuel to contain 10 percent biodiesel.

His association’s chairman, Daniel Svaloja, complains that truckers are being forced to use the biodiesel blend even though other industries, such as mining companies, are exempt. Giving some industries a pass on the mandate proves the fuel blend has problems, Svaloja said.

“I believe the biodiesel industry is mature and can stand on its own” without a state mandate, said Svaloja, a Wadena native, who made a stop at Lund Boats in New York Mills and now is a Blaine-based transportation attorney.

Minnesota instituted its first biodiesel mandate in 2002, when a 2 percent biodiesel blend was ordered. It was raised to 5 percent, which on Tuesday was upped to 10 percent (but only during Minnesota’s warmest months).

From the time ethanol was first debated long before biodiesel came into the spotlight, opponents have complained that blending plant-based fuel with petroleum products would hurt performance or damage engines. While corn-based ethanol is blended at 10 percent levels in gasoline with few problems, truckers and other diesel engine users say that is not the likely outcome for biodiesel.

However, Bill and Karolyn Zurn of Calloway told Agweek magazine that biodiesel works and is good for the state’s agriculture industry.

Karolyn Zurn said the Minnesota Soybean Growers association took the opposition seriously when lawmakers debated the issue earlier this year. The association added part-time lobbyists during the legislative session in its effort to get “B10” approved.

Some legislators didn’t understand biodiesel and needed to be educated about it, she said.

Legislation was proposed to scrap the higher mandate, but failed in committee.

A survey by a trucker’s association member late last month found that the 5 percent blend then sold in Minnesota cost 4 cents to 6 cents per gallon more, before tax, than diesel sold in North Dakota and Wisconsin. Hausladen attributed that to the presence of biodiesel in fuel sold in Minnesota, and worried that diesel fuel will cost even more.

Bill Zurn said concern about B10 is unfounded.

“B5 has been working for quite a few years, with very minor issues,” he said. “Moving now to B10 in the summer months, we don’t feel that will be a problem.”

Senate race gets attention

Several organizations recently have taken note of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race, including at least one that labeled it a “sleeper” contest.

A relatively few national reporters have written about the campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a nationally known writer and “Saturday Night Live” star before he ran six years ago. But since the Democrat beat sitting Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman by just 312 votes, and that only after nearly eight months of counting ballots, the race now is getting some attention.

NBC News wrote: “The race bears watching because either 1) it becomes more competitive in the fall, which could signal a potential GOP tsunami come November or 2) it doesn’t become competitive, which would be AMAZING considering that Sen. Al Franken won this race by about 300 votes. ...”

What makes the race look interesting is Franken’s likely November Republican opponent is well-heeled businessman Mike McFadden, who surprised many by picking up his party convention’s endorsement about a month ago.

Franken is using recent press accounts to drum up donations.

“My race has just been labeled the ‘sleeper’ Senate race of 2014,” he wrote to supporters. “But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we all get to take a relaxing nap; there are very few siestas involved in grassroots campaigning. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

“We have to be ready for anything. Because there is no telling how much my opponent or his special interest allies will throw at us. According to the same press account referenced above, my opponent ‘has the personal wealth to at least partially self-fund a campaign.’”

Propane help becomes law

It is summer and not much propane is being used for heating Minnesota homes these days, but the news for next year is good, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.

A bill the Minnesota Democrat helped write is now federal law.

It gives governors more ability to declare a fuel shortage emergency for more than 30 days. The law also requires federal authorities to provide governors with early warnings if propane, natural gas or home heating oil supplies appear likely to be in short supply.

“Frigid temperatures and soaring propane costs hit Minnesota hard this winter and put a big strain on families who struggled to stay warm,” Klobuchar said. “This bill will cut red tape to help states quickly address propane shortages in the future, and I’m pleased that this commonsense measure has now been signed into law.”

Absentee voting open

The push is on by Republicans to cast primary election ballots.

The GOP is pushing its activists to vote now for party-endorsed governor candidate Jeff Johnson, U.S. Senate hopeful Mike McFadden and attorney general candidate Scott Newman. Johnson faces a trio of strong candidates, McFadden’s challenger did not do well in seeking the party’s endorsement and Newman’s opponent is a perennial candidate who has had little success.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.