Legislature debates requiring E-15 pumps

April 20, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Myron Dorn debating Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Sen. Myron Dorn debating Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

Listen To This Story

A proposal aimed at increasing the use of ethanol in Nebraska raised questions in the Legislature Thursday about the state mandating what retailers should sell.

Sen. Myron Dorn is the sponsor of LB562, a bill aimed at increasing the use of E-15, or gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, in Nebraska. As debate began Thursday, Dorn explained what he’s trying to accomplish.

“The basic intent of the bill is to increase access to E-15 ethanol blended gas. Nebraska is the second largest ethanol gas producer, yet we ranked 45th in consumption with a 9.7% blend rate,” Dorn said.

That “blend rate” means that 9.7 percent of the total gallons of gasoline sold in the state consist of ethanol, or alcohol made largely from corn. About 40 percent of the corn grown in Nebraska is used to make ethanol.

Dorn’s bill, with an amendment from the Agriculture Committee, would require gasoline retailers to ensure that 50 percent of any new or replacement pumps they install offer E-15. There would be exceptions for small retailers.

Sen. Megan Hunt objected to the state enacting such a requirement.

“To me, this feels like boosting an industry artificially through a government mandate that the market should really be able to work out for itself. Government should just not be telling businesses what to sell. The consumer gets to dictate what retailers offer and sell consumers shop with their wallets. And I think the Legislature should stay out of this type of relationship with consumers,” Hunt said.

The proposal would also offer retailers a tax credit of five to nine cents for every gallon of E-15 sold for the next five years, up to $5 million a year. That raised a question for Sen. Jane Raybould.

“Why are we making the taxpayers subsidize the ethanol

industry?” Raybould asked.

Sen. Teresa Ibach said that the industry benefits agriculture and the entire state.

“As you may know, there are zero petroleum refineries in our state. But there are 24 ethanol plants. These plants are a key part of our state's economy and our farming communities. Our ethanol producers purchase more than 1.9 billion bushels of corn, which creates more than $5 billion of fuel, ethanol and animal feed,” Ibach said. She added that the industry his supports more than 21,000 farms and 47,000 full time jobs in the state.

Lawmakers adjourned before reaching a first-round vote on the bill.

Earlier Thursday, lawmakers considered a package of business-related bills. They included giving priority for personal protective equipment and vaccines to workers in critical industries, including electrical and gas service. They also included reimbursing first responders for mental health examinations and resilience training if not covered by their employers.

Discussion of the package took place as Sens. Hunt and Machaela Cavanaugh continued their tactic of delaying most bills to protest proposed limits on certain health treatments for transgender youth, Sen. Steve Erdman objected.

“We're going to continue this I believe, until they get tired or whatever -- they get what they want. I'm not sure what that is. But when this session is done, we will have accomplished some things that are very significant. But we'll leave a lot of things on the table that the people in Nebraska have worked hard to bring to us for our consideration,” Erdman said.

Cavanaugh said she’s been willing to withdraw her dilatory motions and allow bills to advance. But she threatened not to do that on the business bills because of Erdman’s criticism.

“I think I've expended all the energy that I absolutely care to expend on Sen. Steve Erdmann today, so I'm going to start talking about other things. You know what I'm going to talk about? Whatever I want. I want a puppy,” Cavanaugh said.

However, she relented on her filibuster of the business bills when word came that Sen. Merv Riepe, leading the fight for the business package, had voted in committee for an extension of SNAP, or food stamp benefits. That measure, which Cavanaugh supports, would extend benefits currently scheduled to expire this October until October, 2025.

The Legislature has now begun a four day weekend, and is scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, when debate on the ethanol bill is expected to continue.