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A South Dakota Approach to Clean Energy

By Sen. John Thune

February 19, 2021

This past year has been tough for everybody, but especially for South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers, who were already experiencing a struggling agriculture economy before the pandemic hit. Since I’ve been in Congress, fighting for agriculture – South Dakota’s top industry – has been one of my highest priorities. As a long-time member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which I’ll be serving on again during the 117th Congress, I have sought to give South Dakota priorities a voice in national conversations on trade, food security, and energy development.

That’s why I was disappointed that on the first day of the Biden administration, we were handed a significant economic blow with the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. We read stories about small businesses that had customers and orders vanish overnight. Thousands of workers learned that their jobs were cancelled with the stroke of a pen. All of this reveals the real-world harm that misguided environmental policies can create. I have urged President Biden to reconsider his decision, and I will continue to press for a common-sense, all-the above energy strategy that can leverage South Dakota’s contributions to American energy independence.

I have told the president’s cabinet nominees that I will object to any far-reaching policies that threaten South Dakota’s economy, such as a new “Waters of the United States” rule, but I have also strongly advocated for expanding areas of opportunity for our state, such as biofuels. For example, when I spoke to Tom Vilsack, the president’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he committed to working with me to promote ethanol as a form of clean energy, and he doubled down on that commitment during his confirmation hearing.

Earlier this month, I reintroduced two bipartisan bills that would provide a roadmap for increasing the use of biofuels. The Adopt GREET Act, which I introduced with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update its greenhouse gas modeling for ethanol and biodiesel by using the U.S. Department of Energy’s GREET model. A recent Harvard study found that ethanol is 46 percent cleaner than gasoline, with some technologies reducing lifecycle emissions by as much as 61 percent. These findings underscore how biofuels can achieve near-term emissions reductions using the existing vehicle fleet and fueling infrastructure without costly subsidies for electric vehicles.

The benefits of modern biofuels are rightfully getting increased attention in the ongoing discussion about the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, aggressive as it may be. Cabinet nominees, including EPA administrator-nominee Michael Regan and energy secretary-nominee former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, have committed to “following the science,” which should include fair consideration of new biofuel emissions data. If confirmed, I will be sure to hold all of them to their commitments.

I also recently reintroduced a bill to advance long-stalled biofuel registrations with the EPA. Regulatory inaction has stifled the advancement of promising technologies like ethanol that is derived from corn kernel fiber, even though some fuels are already safely used in states like California. My bill would permit biofuel producers to capitalize on the research and facility investments they have made to create advanced biofuels at scale, improve their operating margins, and further lower lifecycle emissions, all which would reinforce this essential market for our farmers.

These bills have received strong support from stakeholders, including the South Dakota Corn Growers Association. I recently attended a South Dakota Corn board meeting to discuss these proposals and receive feedback from producers on additional steps that can be taken to promote biofuels like ethanol. As always, this kind of feedback from folks in the state who know the issues best are what drives and informs the decisions I make in Washington.

As the 117th Congress gets to work, you can be sure that I will keep South Dakota’s farmers and ethanol producers at the forefront of any energy policy discussions, and I will continue to press the Biden administration to “follow the science” by ensuring additional ethanol policy is on the table.