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Senators want more U.S support for biodiesel; say 1,500 Minnesota jobs at stake

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Minnesota's U.S. Senators want Washington to do more for the biodiesel industry, saying a failure to support it could cost the state as many as 1,500 jobs.

The Associated Press reports Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar are among a half-dozen Democrats calling on the Obama administration to reconsider a proposal that would scale back the amount of biodiesel that refineries are required to blend into their fuel.

The group also wants Congress to renew a tax credit for biodiesel producers that was allowed to expire. The Hill reports the Senate may vote this week on a tax bill that would revive that credit.

As for the biodiesel mandate, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in November that a scheduled increase for 2014 be canceled. The proposal, which still awaits final approval, would allow refineries to blend the same amount of biodiesel into their fuel this year as last year.

Klobuchar and Franken said at Wednesday's news conference that Minnesota officials have estimated the state could see 1,500 jobs dry up as a result of the downwardly-revised mandate, according to The Hill.

Biodiesel production cuts

Their announcement came as the National Biodiesel Board released results of a survey showing 78 percent of its members say they're cutting back on biodiesel production this year. The group blames inconsistent policy decisions in Washington have spread uncertainty through the industry.

Bryan Christjansen, the general manager of Renewable Energy Group's biodiesel plants in Albert Lea, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa, says if the EPA's proposal is finalized it would harm local economies and put domestic fuel production in jeopardy.

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils, animal fat, and other renewable sources. In addition to the Albert Lea plant, there are Minnesota facilities in Isanti and in Brewster, in the southwestern part of the state.

Sens. Franken and Klobuchar say it's been shown to be a clean and safe form of energy. In July Minnesota will become the first state to require that diesel fuel sold during the summer months consist of a blend that's at least 10 percent biodiesel.

The Hill notes that the oil industry supports the EPA's plan to relax the biodiesel mandate, arguing that demand for renewable fuels is low and the cost to refineries is high.

At the state level, the Minnesota Trucking Association has raised concerns about the cost of the 10 percent biodiesel mandate that kicks in this summer. They've asked the state to study the economic impact of the requirement.

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