A topic of high interest in north-central Montana — the production of fuel from renewable sources — is getting national attention, with the drought scorching the nation being a top driver.
Montana groups involved in biofuels have joined a national coalition, Fuels America, in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to decline a request from a group of governors to waive the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, which sets requirements for the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended with petroleum fuels and available for consumers.
The group requesting the waiver cites increasing prices, particularly for corn, that will impact livestock producers and asked that the requirement for corn-based ethanol be waived.
But supporters of biofuels say the requirements should be kept.
“We’ve seen Montana-grown and Montana-produced biofuels power commercial and military jets, trains and commuter buses, ” Chris Christiaens, legislative and project specialist for the Montana Farmers Union, said in a press release. “We are just at the beginning stages of exploring Montana’s potential in this area, which is enormous. But, without the RFS, we are in danger of losing momentum. The biofuels industry feeds our state economy, helps rural Montana, and provides the U. S. with energy security. ”
The EPA has extended its comment period on the issue to Oct. 11.
The 25x’25 Alliance, a group pushing for 25 percent of America’s energy to be produced using renewable resources by 2025, has called on its members and partners to submit comments on the proposed waiver.
"There is no current evidence that compliance with the RFS is causing severe economic harm, nor is there evidence that cutting back the RFS will improve the economic conditions of the states or the industries for which these waiver requests were filed, ” 25x'25 Project Coordinator Ernie Shea said in a press release. “In fact, 25x'25 believes that cutting back the RFS would make very little difference in corn prices. However, setting aside ethanol requirements would likely keep gasoline prices higher and reduce the supply of the cost-competitive, high protein feed co-product of the ethanol production process, dried distillers grains with solubles, used by many livestock producers. ”
The push to increase use of renewable fuel has enormous implications in north-central Montana.
Montana State University-Northern research on improving the process of converting camelina — well-suited for use on marginal land or as a rotation crop in the region — to biodiesel has caught national attention. So has a discovery of a process — for which Northern has applied for a patent — to refine camelina to jet fuel.
Earl Fisher Biofuels, a Chester-based biodiesel plant — called by Gov. Brian Schweitzer a prototype for converting locally grown oilseed to biofuel for local use, and this year given the governor’s innovative business award — produces biodiesel used in the local economy, including in a blend sold at the Cenex Cardtrol station in downtown Havre.
Earl Fisher supplied biodiesel for tests at the Havre BNSF station, using a blend to operate a switching engine at the station. BNSF has not yet released the results as yet.
Earl Fisher also was selected as a 2011 Harvesting Clean Energy Innovator by the Harvesting Clean Energy program of Climate Solutions.
The local bus system, North Central Montana Transit, uses locally produced biodiesel in its buses.
The group calling for keeping the standard cited the continued work at Northern, as well as the U. S. military investing $16 in Montana for development and production of camelina-based fuel and the residents of the state putting 17.5 million gallons of ethanol in their vehicles.
The release said that this year the U. S. Department of Commerce announced a $647,748 grant to Northern to expand its biodiesel program and the North Central Montana Renewable Industry Initiative. The project is intended to commercialize new technology, create new high-skill, living-wage jobs and is expected to generate $90 million in private investment.
In the press release, retired U. S. Army Lt. Colonel and Montana rancher Richard Liebert also called for keeping the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Our country, and our troops, benefit from energy independence. By reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we help keep our nation strong and safe, ” Liebert said. “Biofuels would allow the Department of Defense to run on homeland fuel and provide the public with cleaner energy, while also helping to revitalize our struggling ranches and farms. ”
People can submit comments on the waiver, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2012-0632, at http://www.regulations.gov, following the on-line instructions for submitting comments; or via email at email@example.com; fax: (202) 566-1741; or mail: Air and Radiation Docket, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2012-0632, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20460. People are asked to include a total of two copies.
Online: Fuels America: http://www.fuelsamerica.org; http://www.25x25.org; http://www.earlfisherbiofuels.com; Montana State University-Northern Bio-Energy Center: http://bioenergytestingcenter.com/