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MN Farmers Take Ethanol Discussion to Washington

September 14, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Ethanol is one of several important issues that the Minnesota Farmers Union is hoping to take up with lawmakers in Washington this week. Many would like to see the blender tax credit extended and the ethanol blend rate increased from 10 to 15 percent. The blender tax credits, which are given to oil companies as an incentive to blend ethanol with gasoline, are set to expire this year. Critics of the extension say oil companies have been subsidized long enough.

Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, says the tax credit is an investment that protects jobs, and is a step towards decreasing dependence on foreign oil.

"I think Americans, given the choice, would choose a fuel that creates U.S. jobs, reduces carbon emissions and helps strengthen our nation's security. That's what this ethanol piece is really all about."

Peterson says the next step to expanding ethanol use involves investing in an infrastructure of blender pumps at gas stations nationwide.

Richard Eichstadt of Poet Biorefining in Preston says the ethanol issue is ultimately about market access. He says creating a marketplace with greater access would allow ethanol to compete head-to-head with gasoline.

"Right now, the petroleum industry has a monopoly. We simply would like access so that the consumer, that the public, can choose to go up to 15 percent ethanol, and that would be a consumer choice."

Concerns over the move to E-15, as the 15 percent ethanol blend is called, include whether the fuel would require special "flex-fuel" vehicles to use it satisfactorily. A joint study by Minnesota State University-Mankato and the University of North Dakota tested one flex-fuel and three standard models of automobiles, and showed them all to tolerate blends of up to E-30, or 30 percent ethanol to 70 percent gasoline.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, corn is the leading crop produced in Minnesota. The state's 21 ethanol plants are expected to produce over one billion gallons of ethanol this year, almost doubling the annual production from 2006.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture statistics on ethanol are at bit.ly/aDwzVU

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN