Capitol Notebook: Renewable Fuels Group Blasts Big Oil

By Don Davis

The Renewable Fuels Association says major oil companies strong-arm retailers that sell gasoline under their brand names to avoid using any more plant-based ethanol than legally necessary.

Independent gasoline stations are four to six times more likely to sell higher blends of ethanol, usually made from corn, than those that carry major oil company names, the association reported.

At stake is whether high ethanol blends will be readily available to consumers. Those blends include E85, which features 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petroleum-based gasoline. Also being hindered, the association says, is the sale of E15, with 15 percent ethanol; most gasoline today contains 10 percent ethanol.

The association claims that contracts major oil companies make retailers sign construct roadblocks to selling anything other than what big oil wants, which is to sell their petroleum products.

“This new report underscores the need for the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to look into these allegations, and I will continue pushing to ensure that consumers have access to the cheaper, cleaner fuels they deserve,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

Reuters news agency reports that oil companies, which long have called for repeal of a federal biofuel mandate, say retailers have been reluctant to sell E15 due to concerns that it could harm engines in older vehicles, and that consumers do not want to buy the product.

Klobuchar and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have pressed the FTC for almost a year to investigate whether oil industry practices regarding ethanol violate antitrust laws. It is unclear whether the agency has taken action on the matter.

Where are the farmers?

The New York Times is sponsoring a conference this year called “Food for Tomorrow,” promising that it will discuss how to “farm better, eat better, feel better.”

But the Daily Yonder online rural newspaper points out that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine is the only farmer and only rural resident on the speaker list: “She has an organic operation that supplies her restaurant and lodge, and she sells a good bit of wool on line.”

While Times officials tell the Yonder they are adding speakers, they did not promise any farmers would speak from the dais.

Times columnist Mark Bittman is to be keynote speaker at the New York event, with a couple of Times reporters on the agenda.

Yonder reports: “There’s a panel discussion on who will farm (with no full-time farmers) and a group talking ‘sustainable scale,’ with no farmers and nobody who has had to deal directly with food monopolies.”

4 lane or 2 lane?

Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson’s running mate told a southern Minnesota newspaper that it was a mistake to turn a northern Minnesota highway into four lanes.

The Owatonna People’s Press reported on Bill Kuisle’s visit: “Another issue for Kuisle is how the MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) and lawmakers interact. In general, he said that the Legislature has a ‘hands-off’ approach to choosing transportation projects. But a strong legislator can lobby to get work done in his or her region, which can be a misplaced priority.

“As an example, he mentioned U.S. Highway 2 in the northern part of the state. He said it was made into a four-lane roadway under the watch of former (federal) Rep. Jim Oberstar, who died earlier this year. Kuisle said that the highway should have stayed at two lanes.”

Another Republican candidate, Marty Seifert, jumped on the comment and said he thinks the highway should be four lanes so grain can be delivered from Minnesota farmers and all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles can be shipped from Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls to the Duluth port.

Seifert spends a lot of time reminding GOP voters of his rural background.

Other candidates also can claim a rural background. Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes and Kuisle is a lifelong farmer south of Rochester. Candidate Kurt Zellers grew up on a North Dakota farm and his running mate, Dean Simpson, owns two grocery stores in Otter Tail County communities.

The fourth major Republican governor candidate, Scott Honour, and running mate Karin Housley are suburbanites who have not pushed any rural roots.

Senate race costly

Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race is becoming an expensive contest.

Republican-endorsed candidate Mike McFadden reports that he raised $1.1 million in the second quarter of the year, bringing the Twin Cities businessman to $4 million since he began his race to challenge Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

Franken, meanwhile, reports that he raised more than $3.3 million in the quarter with more than $5 million in the bank.

Health leader to pitch

Being Minnesota health commissioner is the pits.

The horseshoe pits, that is. Commissioner Ed Ehlinger is bringing back his “pitch the commissioner” event after introducing it two years ago. He starts this summer’s horseshoe-pitching stops July 22 in Worthington.

Ehlinger is a horseshoe enthusiast who invites the public to talk to him while pitching horseshoes.

“Pitching horseshoes is a fun and easy way for people to be physically active and engage in conversation at the same time,” Ehlinger said. “It’s great to get out and visit people around the state, and hear their thoughts on what their communities need to be healthy.”

Besides Worthington, he plans to be in Eveleth on Aug. 13, Cook on Aug. 14 and Marshall on Aug. 28.