Written by Anna Boroff
Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) Policy Director
Gov. Dayton’s buffer proposal and the bioeconomy bill once again lead this week’s ag update from the Minnesota state capitol. On the federal side, we have a Renewable Fuel Standard update and news on the Waters of the United States legislation.
Before getting to this week’s update, I’d like to thank the farmer-leaders from Minnesota Corn who spent Tuesday at the capitol visiting legislators and meeting with agency leaders. The grassroots action of MCGA farmer-leaders continues to amaze me! Look for a recap of these visits early next week on MinnesotaCornerstone.com.
Also, congrats to Past MCGA President Ryan Buck for being honored with a special House resolution on Tuesday. More details can be read here.
Now, onto this week’s update:
On Tuesday Gov. Dayton included $20 million in his bonding bill for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources for a state match on USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to purchase permanent conservation easements to try and move his buffer proposal forward. Here is an exact description of the proposal from the governor’s office: “to improve water quality and habitat through a targeted, voluntary approach that leverages CREP dollars to purchase permanent conservation easements and restore land.”
Bonding bills must originate in the House, and as of now, the House GOP says they have no plans for a bonding bill, but haven’t ruled out the possibility. You can read more about the bonding bill, buffers, and the MCGA response in this AP story.
We also watched the Governor deliver his State of the State address, in which he identified his buffer proposal as one of his top three priorities this session. (MCGA’s Dan Erickson was there as a guest of Rep. Peggy Bennett). Here’s a full transcript and video from Dayton’s State of the State address, including his comments on buffers.
There seems to be many questions regarding the bioeconomy bill, so let me (hopefully) clear up any misconceptions:
- The bill does not provide subsidies for traditional corn ethanol plants. Our current ethanol industry no longer receives producer payments.
- The bill does NOT require that any cellulosic project in the state to have a 30 percent perennial requirement. The only cellulosic projects requiring 30 percent perennials are those who want to access funds through the producer payment program.
- The 30 percent perennial requirement also would not apply to sugar or starch advanced biofuels projects, as well as another class of cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber.
- Please allow me to editorialize for a minute: By creating new markets, there’s a lot of value in this bill for corn farmers. But the bill’s value goes beyond just corn farmers. As this Star Tribune editorial states, this bill means in-state jobs and increased economic opportunity. Yes, we’ve made some compromises along the way on this bill, but they’re compromises we can live with. This bill has also been a great bridge to find common ground and connect with legislators and environmental groups who often are in opposition to bills we support.
Omnibus ag finance bill
The omnibus ag finance bill had its first day in committee late last week. Here are a few highlights:
- The Ag committee budget did get some additional funds for the next biennium, but not enough to provide for several of the ag community’s biggest priorities with general fund dollars, including the ag productivity research funding we’ve been working on restoring to the University of Minnesota.
- In order to provide some level of funding for this important priority, Ag Finance Committee Chair Rod Hamilton had to find money within the current budget to re-direct towards this purpose. The ag productivity funding receives $10 million total, but it comes mostly from the AGRI fund at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. We would have liked to see this priority funded with general fund dollars, but we appreciate Chair Hamilton recognizing the need for this important research funding and we hope we can continue to work on the bill and funding mechanisms as it moves forward.
- The bioeconomy bill mentioned above receives $2 million dollars in funding, also from existing AGRI funds. This is an important step forward into making this bill a reality.
- The bill also includes additional ag education funding, language pertaining to the Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Council, and a livestock industry study, among other items.
Because the AGRI fund is so heavily cut and contains many items MCGA sees as important, we continue to watch this bill and have hopes that these funding cuts can be restored and general fund money can be found to fund additional requests. We are still watching for the Senate to release their bills with agriculture funding, and their work will be equally important as we head into conference committee.
The House Ag Finance Committee will continue its markup of the bill on Tuesday evening. The House Environment Committtee will also begin it’s omnibus bill work this week, and released it’s bill on Saturday. It contains many items pertaining to corn farmers, such as the much debated funding of Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) we’ve seen come up numerous times in the buffer debate (Chair Denny McNamara funds SWCDs to the tune of $1.2 million per year to do cost sharing for buffers, water retention projects, and other high priority conservation practices).
It also includes language on the MPCA Citizen’s Board reforms, irrigation/groundwater permitting, Wetland Conservation Act changes, and also requires that the DNR look at large scale water retention demonstration projects and recommend projects of this nature to the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage committee. (There’s more, but perhaps I’ll focus an upcoming column on this bill).
Renewable Fuel Standard
Late Friday afternoon we got word that a proposed consent decree brought against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the oil industry would establish a schedule that would require EPA to to propose volume requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume requirements for 2015 by June 1. By Nov. 30, EPA would have to finalize volume requirements for 2014 and 2015.
Outside of the consent decree, EPA committed to proposing 2016 volume requirements by June 1 and finalized by Nov. 30.
We’re happy to see EPA finally commit to resolving this issue. The constant delays are harmful to the emerging biofuels industry. We will continue working with the National Corn Growers, Congress and EPA to ensure that the final numbers are consistent with the intent of Congress when it passed the RFS to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide Americans with homegrown and cleaner choice at the pump.
Waters of the United States
A new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) bill was released last week that, basically, gives federal agencies 30 days to withdraw the currently proposed WOTUS rule and come up with a new one. The new bill will be marked up by the Transportation Committee this week.