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Renewable fuels group blast big oil

ST. PAUL — 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 reported 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.

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 small 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.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.