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Minnesota’s School Buses Will Run on Soybeans

MINNEAPOLIS — A bill requiring diesel fuel sold in the state to contain a 2 percent blend of soy or vegetable oil became law without the governor’s signature March 11, making Minnesota the first state to mandate biodiesel in its fuel.

Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) said he supported the pursuit of renewable fuels, but disagreed with the idea of any government mandate, thus he allowed the bill to go forward without signing it. Ventura also warned of increased inflation as it is estimated a 2 percent biodiesel blend will add 2 cents to the price of a gallon of diesel fuel. Trucking industry officials opposed the bill, arguing that additional costs could be as high as 44 cents a gallon when other factors are taken into consideration.

But Denny Coughlin, director of maintenance for Minneapolis Public Schools, said biodiesel will have little effect. “I don’t expect that we will know the difference,” Coughlin said. “However, biodiesel is not real friendly in extremely cold weather. My biggest concern is cold weather, but with only a 2 percent requirement for all internal combustion engines, it shouldn’t be too bad.”

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils such as soybeans, or animal tallow such as grease. Soybeans are an important state crop and the legislation is intended more as a boon for soybean farmers, who’ve seen a slumping market in recent years, than for environmental reasons.

Early in the school year, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association ran a series of radio advertisements promoting biodiesel’s environmental benefits, while alleging that school bus riders are being subjected to harmful diesel emissions. The ads cited a since-debunked Natural Resources Defense Council report that said diesel fumes inside school buses where hazardous to children’s health.

“They were trying to scare the public, and parents in particular, into using more of their product through an ad campaign that misleads and misinforms,” said Julie Bernick, the president of the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association.

The biodiesel law does not become effective until June 30, 2005, but will take effect earlier if 8 million gallons of soy-based biodiesel are produced annually in Minnesota or if the state or federal government provides a 2-cent per gallon tax credit for 2 percent biodiesel blends.


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