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Corn farmers ready to take on oil industry in clash over ethanol mandate

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America's corn farmers might seem like they have a well-oiled lobbying machine. But when it's stacked up against the oil industry, it may look like small potatoes.

Plenty of Minnesota corn growers and their political supporters are part of a pushback against last week's decision in Washington to roll back the federal requirement for how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. Defenders of Minnesota's ethanol industry tell the Star Tribune Big Oil was behind the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to lower the target for biofuels.

As the newspaper reports, critics say the change will hurt Minnesota's 21 ethanol plants and stifle the development of new biofuels. Both of Minnesota's Senators are among fellow Democrats who are criticizing the Obama administration for the decision.

While environmental and automotive interests have also called for backing away from higher ethanol targets, it's the oil industry that's most associated with the fight. Politico, for example, described last week's EPA announcement as a victory for oil. Their story notes that oil companies had warned of a spike in gas prices if the EPA were to stick with the original biofuel mandate contained in a 2007 law.

The Star Tribune says a 10 percent ethanol blend has become standard at most filling stations and they will be unaffected by the EPA's proposed change of direction. Stations in Minnesota and some other states just recently started offering a 15 percent ethanol blend, though. If the EPA's decision is finalized in the spring, it may stop the spread of those E15 gas pumps.

So corn and ethanol producers will fire up a lobbying effort aimed at getting the EPA to change its mind. Gannett News calls that a daunting task, particularly given the political might of the oil industry. The leader of one ethanol group tells the news service"We know what we're up against."

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