Legislative Update: New priorities emerge in St. Paul, Washington

By Amanda Bilek, senior public policy director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

All resources and legislative efforts in both St. Paul and Washington D.C. have necessarily shifted to reacting to the coronavirus (COVID-19). With that, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) has had to pause some legislative priorities while working to bring some relief to farmers during this difficult time.

Minnesota’s legislative session and the increased biofuel standard

Although there are still a couple months left in the Minnesota legislative session, operations are anything but normal. Last week the legislature adjourned until April 14, although they could come back to pass COVID-19 related legislation or other priority items. But the level of investment needed to shore up public and private resources in response to the public health crisis has significantly altered not only the next few weeks, but the rest of the legislative session. With that, advancing any of MCGA’s policy priorities detailed at the beginning of the session will likely need to be worked on again next year.

One of MCGA’s top legislative priorities was to increase Minnesota’s biofuel standard from 10 to 15 percent. We always expected that this was likely a multi-year effort. But by pushing the issue this session, we were able to bring to the surface concerns (or in some cases straight opposition) from a range of stakeholders. Knowing these arguments allows us to better prepare factual responses and address issues in outreach for the rest of the year.

Besides funding for biofuels infrastructure, the legislature has not acted on biofuels related policy since 2013, and there have been a lot of legislators elected since then that haven’t previously been asked to consider biofuel policy. For MCGA, this furthers our resolve to plan and execute a robust candidate education and policy maker ethanol outreach effort for the rest of the year.

We will be putting together candidate education materials on ethanol, inviting candidates to station fueling events and/or ethanol plant and farm tours and use our Better Fuel Initiative platform to continue public outreach and education.  We also plan to work with our county associations to reach out to local candidates or policy makers to engage and provide information. These types of strategies can set us up for success in a future session.

MCGA is also represented on the Governor’s Council on Biofuels and will be working closely with state agencies and other members to develop a set of strong policy, program and budget recommendations that can help advance Minnesota’s biofuel leadership in the long-term and achieve even greater blends of biofuels.

During this time we remain in contact with legislators, administration officials and in-state ag partners to monitor developments and coordinate responses to help agriculture through this difficult time.

Federal actions move ahead

The Trump Administration has until the end of Mar. 24 to decide whether or not it would appeal a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that would restrict the issuing of small refinery waivers by the Environmental Protection Agency. By appealing, the administration would be siding with Big Oil by pushing back on the first positive ethanol development for corn in years.

MCGA issued a call-to-action asking its members to contact President Trump and ask he does not appeal the decision. More than 300 farmers responded over the last 72 hours, emphasizing the importance of this issue with corn farmers.

MCGA will provide an update once the decision by the administration is made public.

Meanwhile both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are working to pass legislation that brings economic relief to Americans impacted by COVID-19. In addition to the financial assistance provided to individuals, small businesses, healthcare and more, the relief package will include critical funding for agriculture.

Supplemental appropriations proposed to date have included raising the lending cap for the Commodity Credit Corporation and Commodity Assistance Program to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19, both domestically and internationally. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) formed a task force around COVD-19 to advocate for ag assistance funding helping corn farmers impacted by the crisis.

MCGA will continue supporting NCGA in their action on the federal level, and will continue to update corn farmers on the latest developments.

Be sure to follow the MCGA blog and its social channels (FacebookTwitter) for updates. You can also follow me on Twitter (@AjBilek).

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