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Commentary: High renewable fuel standard crucial to help farmers, climate

By now, it's obvious that the farm economic crisis is largely caused by an oversupply of corn and soybeans with not enough demand.

Meanwhile, climate change looms large over the U.S., one of the symptoms being destructive hurricanes that damage oil refineries in Texas.

We can look to previous farm depressions for advice. In the past, renewable fuels have been key in raising producers out of tough times. This is why it makes no sense that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced lower proposed renewable fuel volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS.)

Corn growers sell millions of bushels of corn to ethanol plants every year. Soybean growers need more opportunities to market their products, like biodiesel.

The U.S. needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

President Donald Trump has said on multiple occasions that he wants to grow the ethanol industry. That's a good promise to keep. But his energy secretary, Rick Perry, asked the EPA to waive half the conventional renewable fuel quota as Texas governor in 2008, according to a Bloomberg News story. His EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, is the leader of the agency that seems to be working against the interests of U.S. farmers and the environment.

The EPA has released a Notice of Data Availability, inviting public comments on "potential options for reductions in the 2018 biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel volumes, and/or the 2019 biomass-based diesel volume under the (RFS) program."

The notice includes suggestions of reducing biomass-based diesel by 315 million gallons. This would drop the total Renewable Volume Obligation, which includes conventional ethanol, to 18.77 billion gallons from 19.24 billion gallons. The good news is that there's nothing mentioned about changing the Trump administration's call for 15 billion gallons of availability for conventional biofuel, which is typically corn ethanol. However, the fact that EPA is considering rolling back renewable fuels of any kind is still a concern.

The RFS law is intended to expand markets for biofuels produced in the U.S. Plus, biofuels provide jobs for rural America and lower the cost of fuel for consumers.

Another piece of good news for Minnesota is the B20 mandate. Starting in spring 2018, diesel fuel sold here will be required to contain at least 20 percent biodiesel. That's an increase from the current B10.

The entire nation should be going this direction. We need ethanol and other biofuels because they are grown in the United States, provide a boost to farmers and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Some of the biggest oil refineries in America were just hit hard by Hurricane Harvey and were shut down for weeks, driving gas prices up everywhere.

Turning to more renewable fuels can ease that pain in the future. Minnesota Farmers Union urges the EPA to increase biofuel volume requirements — not decrease them.

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