Bioeconomy Bill Prospects as MN Legislature Nears the Finish Line for 2015 Session

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There are just a few weeks left in the 2015 Minnesota legislative session and it is shaping up to be an all-out sprint to the finish. The Minnesota legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn May 18th and the big work of this session is finalizing a two-year budget for the State of Minnesota.  The Great Plains Institute is the lead convener of the Bioeconomy Coalition of Minnesota and the Coalition has been working with partner organizations and legislative members to create a new financing program to assist with the commercial production of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biomass thermal energy. We have previously written about the policy proposal here and here. This policy proposal is known as the “Bioeconomy bill.” Will the Bioeconomy bill make it across the finish line when the legislature adjourns? Here is a quick rundown of where the bill currently stands.

At the beginning of April we announced that the Coalition had reached an agreement with members of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership who had previously been opposed to the bill over possible water quality impacts from the use of crop residues for cellulosic biofuels. Once the agreement was in place, the language of the Bioeconomy bill was amended to reflect the principles of the agreement. The Star Tribune published an editorial praising the compromise as a way to move forward policy that can deliver economic development and natural resource enhancement.

With the opposition to the bill eliminated and broad support from biobased industry, agriculture, and environmental interests the bill moved from the policy committees to consideration by the finance committees in the House and Senate for possible inclusion in budget bills.

In mid-April, Representative Rod Hamilton – Chair of the Agriculture Finance Committee and chief author of the Bioeconomy bill – included the Bioeconomy bill in the overall Agriculture Policy and Finance bill (HF 1437). As HF 1437 has worked its way through the process there have been a few changes to the Bioeconomy bill, but when HF 1437 is brought the floor, the production incentive program will have a $1.883 million appropriation for the next two years and the underlying policy language for the program remains largely intact.

In the Minnesota Senate, the Bioeconomy bill has been included in Senator David Tomassoni’s – finance division chair for Environment, Economic Development, and Agriculture – omnibus Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources appropriation bill, SF 1764. The production incentive program has a $5 million appropriation in the budget bill. Also in the Senate bill is policy language for a working lands perennial feedstock program to establish the biomass supply necessary for a cellulosic biofuel facility that would turn perennial grasses and crop residues into a liquid fuel. In order to determine the best path for program implementation the Board of Soil and Water Resources is allocated $750,000 to develop a detailed plan for program delivery.

There are differences between the House and Senate versions of the Bioeconomy bill language along with several other policy provisions, so a conference committee will hammer out the final details. HF 1437 is scheduled for a floor vote on Monday, May 4. The conference committee process will begin in early May. We will continue to work closely with the Bioeconomy bill’s legislative sponsors (Rep. Rod Hamilton and Sen. Tom Saxhaug) and other key legislators as the bill moves through the rest of the process and hopefully to Governor Mark Dayton’s desk.

This post was heavy on legislative process, but it is important to keep in mind the potential positive benefits of the Bioeconomy bill. The Minnesota Corn Growers, a member of the Bioeconomy Coalition, gives a great run down in this blog post, “5 things corn farmers (and everyone else) should know about the Bioeconomy bill.”

Once we know the final outcome on the Bioeconomy bill, I will be sure to publish a post with all the final details. Until then, the race to finish the 2015 Minnesota legislative session is on!