20 Minnesota corn farmers attend Corn Congress, make Hill visits in DC

John Mages

John Mages

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Coming from across the state, 20 grower-leaders from Minnesota’s corn organizations visited members of Congress, their key aides and other government officials to register their concern about the uncertainty created by current deliberations over changes to water quality regulations under consideration at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In particular, changes to the definition of ‘navigable waters’ to include ditches and even surface runoff from farm fields would mean EPA would have a direct impact on agriculture through new rules it could apply under the Clean Water Act.

Farmers like John Mages, who serves as chairman of the government relations committee for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, came to Washington to attend the two-day annual meeting of the National Corn Growers Association, aka “Corn Congress.”

The gathering also gave these farmers a chance to make ‘Hill visits’ and voice their concerns directly to key representatives, senators and agency staff.

“We like to see our representatives, to show that rural Minnesota cares about what is happening in Washington,” Mages said. “It’s essential to communicate about how the decisions in Washington impact the way we do business as farmers.”

Aside from the questions regarding rulemaking on water quality policy, farmers talked with their representatives and senators about the new farm bill.

Mages, who farms in Belgrade noted that Texas A&M University and the University of Illinois are both developing farm bill ‘decision calculators’ to help farmers decide how to use the provisions of the 2014 farm bill. The new farm bill offers two types of support that can either cover an entire farm or individual crops within a farm.

Minnesota Corn Growers Association Executive Director Tim Gerlach, left, and Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council Chairman Gerald Tumbleson in Washington D.C. last week for Corn Congress.

Delegates to Corn Congress elected officers to the NCGA board, terms beginning in October. Also in October, NCGA CEO Rick Tolman steps down after 14 years leading the organization. Members celebrated his accomplishments, and marked his tenure as a period of dynamic growth for NCGA.

Another issue of great concern to many corn farmers is how EPA has been dealing with the Renewable Fuels Standard. EPA has proposed changes that would lower the amount of ethanol blended in the nation’s transportation fuel supply. EPA has yet to make a decision on a final number following the comment period on its proposal, leaving farmers and the ethanol industry anxious.

“The farmers and the ethanol producers got up a really good campaign of letter writing to express how negative this proposal would be,” Mages said. “But now they are just leaving us dangling. The uncertainty of the new rule adds to the damage because there are decisions that need to be made depending on which way this goes.”

Mages gives additional details on Corn Congress and Minnesota corn farmers in Washington in the below radio interviews.

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Speak for Yourself program helps farmers tell their own story

Speak for yourself

Kevin Dahlman, a family farmer near Cokato, practices his interview skills during a mock radio interview at a recent Speak for Yourself training.

Today’s consumers are more curious than ever before about modern agriculture and where their food comes from. That creates new challenges for farmers — the people tasked with growing food for the entire world.

But it also creates opportunity.

That’s why the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Farm Bureau have partnered to support the “Speak for Yourself” program (SFY). The SFY program helps farmers tell their own story, and boost all of agriculture in the process.

Over the last two years, 48 Minnesota farmers have delivered 188 presentations in front of almost 6,000 people at Chamber of Commerce events, agribusiness functions, mom groups and other gatherings. The program is designed to prepare farmers to deliver a positive message about farming and food to a high-value audience comprised of leaders active in their local communities and other influential stakeholders.

“In ag, we’re all about continuous improvement,” said Kevin Papp, a fourth-generation farmer in Blue Earth County and Minnesota Farm Bureau president. “We want to strive to do the best we can and this program helps us.”

For other farmers, it helps them feel more confident in the facts and information they share when interacting with consumers, especially consumers who might not fully understand modern farming.

“As a farmer, it helps me feel more comfortable in that environment,” said Lori Feltis, who farms in Stewartville. “I know I can be defensive. I know I i need to step back sometimes and understand where others are coming from.”

At a recent SFY training at Dassel-Cokato High School, farmers heard presentations that provided insight into how to communicate with the non-farming public on antibiotic use in meat, renewable fuels, ag water quality and organic vs. conventional farming.

There was also a session on how to manage a hostile audience – “Speak to the person first, and the issue second,” advised Al Eidson of Eidson & Partners, a marketing firm based in Kansas. A hands-on a media training session was capped by two mock radio interviews.

Speak for Yourself Farm Bureau

At a recent Speak for Yourself training at Dassel-Cokato High School, participants learned about ag water quality issues from Jeremy Geske of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center

Of the 1,152 audience members who have filled out an evaluation form after hearing a SFY participant give a presentation, 38 percent have changed their opinion about modern agriculture.

That’s not to say the majority of audience members had a negative opinion of farming before hearing a SFY presentation.Often, regardless of how someone feels about agriculture today, his or her overall knowledge of food and farming expandeds after hearing a farmer talk about what they do. There’s tremendous value in that for farmers and everyone involved in the agriculture sector.

“A lot more goes into farming than just planting crops,” is a common message left on audience feedback forms after a SFY presentation.

That type of deeper understanding is important in helping farmers establish long-term connections with non-farmers. Trust and understanding between farmer and consumer are key when it comes time to push back against misinformation designed to turn people against modern agriculture using tactics that appeal to emotions instead of intellect.

Storytelling is a powerful tool, whether you’re a new small business just starting out, a corporate entity with offices around the globe. It’s especially important if you’re a farmer in rural Minnesota who grows food, feed, fiber and fuel for a growing world population.

SFY helps farmers tell their own story, something all of agriculture needs more of today.

Want to become a part of SFY and improve how you tell your own farming story? Contact Marytina Lawrence, SFY coordinator, at speakforyourselfmn@gmail.com or 763-273-6981 for more information.

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Klobuchar, Grassley call for investigation of ethanol sales restrictions

Sen. Klobuchar spoke at a Renewable Fuel Standard event earlier this year at Guardiant Energy in Janesville.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, a democrat from Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa republican, are calling for a federal investigation to determine whether Big Oil companies have engaged in practices that restrict the sales of higher blends of ethanol.

In a letter to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the senators wrote:

The report from the RFA (Renewable Fuels Association) found that unbranded or independent stations are roughly four to six times more likely to offer E85 and 40 times more likely to offer E15 than stations carrying a “Big Five” oil brand. The report provides a series of tactics some oil companies use to prevent or discourage the sale of renewable fuels. We have attached a copy of the RFA study to this letter.

We ask that the DOJ and the FTC review the RFA report, investigate the claims and findings included in it, and reply to us with a substantive evaluation of your conclusions regarding possible anticompetitive behavior by certain oil companies and any proposed solutions or actions the DOJ and FTC will take to resolve this issue.

More details on the RFA report referenced in the letter can be read here. Anti-competitive practices the senators want investigated include:

  • Branded stations can only sell products provided by the oil company.
  • Sales quotas of branded products unfairly restrict ethanol sales.
  • Slapping intimidating and misleading warnings about ethanol on pumps.
  • Forcing E85 pumps to be isolated away from other pumps.

Consumers deserve choices at the pump, not underhanded tactics from Big Oil to maintain their monopoly on vehicle fuels and their tight grip on our wallets. Kudos to Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Grassley for asking for an investigation.

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Tasseldega Nights by the numbers: MCGA racing promotion makes an impact

Corn cob facepainting and MCGA ethanol flags were a hit at Deer Creek.

Corn cob facepainting and MCGA ethanol flags were a hit.

Minnesota’s corn farmers brought free racing to Elko Speedway and Deer Creek Speedway this summer through “Tasseldega Nights,” a unique and fun promotion created to connect with racing fans and consumers about clean, renewable and homegrown ethanol.

The Deer Creek “Tasseldega Nights” race was Saturday, July 19, and was just as successful as the first “Tasseldega Nights” race at Elko back on June 7. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) went all out to deliver a positive and factual message about ethanol and farming to audiences at both tracks.

Deer Creek

Jonathan Olmscheid uses a high-ethanol blend in his racecar. Here he is at Deer Creek Speedway demonstrating the difference between regular gasoline and cleaner burning ethanol to a local television station.

MCGA chose Elko and Deer Creek for “Tasseldega Nights” because of each track’s proximity to the Twin Cities metro region (Elko) and Rochester (Deer Creek), two major population centers with large concentrations of drivers who would benefit from learning more about a less expensive and cleaner burning fuel like ethanol.

Now that “Tasseldega Nights” is in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look at the impact made by this fun-filled promotion:

  • About 15,000 race fans packed the stands for the two races. The audience included everyone from dedicated gearheads to families out for a night of entertainment. “Tasseldega Nights” succeeded in reaching a broad cross-section of people at the track.
  • 700 “Tasseldega Nights” t-shirts sold. Yes, the shirts had Ted Tassel on the back along with a snazzy design, but most importantly, the shirts had a positive message about ethanol — one that will be seen by thousands of others as the shirts are worn around town and to other races.
  • Deer Creek

    The MCGA booth was buzzing with activity before, during and after the race.

    More than 500 new “likes” on Facebook. That’s 500 more people active on social media viewing, sharing and liking MCGA-related content on ethanol, food and conservation long after “Tasseldega Nights” is finished.

  • A statewide audience of thousands reached through television commercials such as this one and radio spots like this one targeted at both a farming and non-farming audience. It’s impossible to pin down exactly how many people saw “Tasseldega Nights” television commercials or heard a Minnesota corn farmer on the radio airwaves talking about the race and homegrown ethanol, but it’s safe to say the number approached six figures.
  • 30 racecar drivers at Elko and Deer Creek running on higher blends of ethanol during racing season. MCGA created the “Ethanol Cup” this summer, which is leading to more drivers using
    Deer Creek 4

    As drivers raced around the track, fans learned more about homegrown ethanol.

    homegrown ethanol at the track. When racers are using more ethanol, it helps convince more consumers to also give the homegrown a fuel a try.

  • 7 more racing events this summer. In addition to the MCGA-sponsored “Tasseldega Nights” at Elko and Deer Creek, county corn growers organizations are putting on seven more “Jam the Stands” races at other tracks throughout Minnesota. That’s thousands of additional race fans and consumers who will receive free admission to their local track and a positive message about ethanol and corn farming. To see if a “Jam the Stands” race is coming to a track near you, check out MCGA’s events calendar.

Thank you to everyone who came out for “Tasseldega Nights” this summer!

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Future of ag rail service is “all about communications”

Ag Rail delays

Former MCGA president Tom Haag (left of speaker) participated in a forum on Thursday to discuss ag rail shipping delays.

By Jonathan Eisenthal

A forum in Alexandria sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture allowed farmers to share their concerns with railroad companies about the problems created by lack of timely rail service, which reached crisis levels in the late winter and early spring this year, especially for farmers in central and northwestern Minnesota.

Tom Haag, a farmer in Eden Valley and past president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), participated in a panel discussion: “Limited infrastructure is the bottom line. They’ve still got one line running through our area, the Canadian Pacific line. With only one track, they can only run so many train cars in one direction.”

Haag described for the other panelists and audience how local elevators for some farmers could not move enough product like corn to market because of the lack of grain cars. The full elevators stopped taking delivery on already established contracts. The delays meant farmers couldn’t take advantage of rising prices. The delays caused a substantial volume of grain that usually went to markets in the west to be hauled east by truck to ethanol plants and other local markets, causing the value of corn in those markets to drop.

“The MDA funded a study by the University of Minnesota and found that Minnesota corn farmers lost more $100 million dollars from these delays,”Haag said.

He added that the elephant in the room went unrecognized: “The increase in traffic from oil fields was never brought up. They seemed to want to stay away from that as much as they could.”

A panel composed of railroad company representatives “discussed the challenges that faced the railroads, and all the things they are doing to try to expand for the future,” reported Anna Boroff, public policy director for MCGA. She said, “They predict that by harvest they will be caught up and back to ‘normal.’ The export possibilities are still looking good. Together with rising yields, the rail companies favor increased investment in infrastructure and increasing capacity.”

The companies such as Canadian Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Twin Cities & Western (a short rail company) echoed the farmers’ concern with timely delivery of rail service capacity. They also voiced concerns about the burden of regulatory intervention.

“The railroads said they are building more grain hopper cars, they are getting more locomotives, they are getting more people hired,”Haag said. “To me, still the big problem is that the train tracks have not expanded capacity since it they were first built. Economics is a big part of the picture. We all know the oil companies get their needs met because they have the money to spend, so they can get the cars when they need them. When it comes to grain, or bringing fertilizer, there is not as much profit to be made —they cannot charge as much and still have farmer customers.”

Haag observed that infrastructure is basic to the long-term competitive position of the United States in the global economy. It comes down to jobs and dollars. Haag also believes the state needs to revisit the issue of building up its livestock and renewable fuels industries: bigger local markets for grain would have many advantages, including relieving rail congestion.

Mike Steenhoeck from the Soy Transportation Coalition made an impassioned plea for greater investment in transportation infrastructure, though he said policy makers were timid when it came to the issue of raising taxes to support transportation.

“If you have a transportation system that serves agriculture, it will serve the entire economy,” Boroff reported Steenhoeck’s position. “The reason we do as well internationally as we do is not because of lower cost of production — places like Brazil are able to produce crops more cheaply than American farmers. Brazil has the most navigable waterway system in the world, but it is not near agricultural production areas. Our main waterway, the Mississippi/Missouri River system goes through our most productive farmland.”

Haag noted that farmers within a two-hour drive of the Twin Cities have good access to river ports. However, Minnesota producers face an added challenge that farmers in Iowa and points south do not — the barge shipping industry in Minnesota closes down for the winter.

“The meeting was productive in a way,”Haag said. “Pointing fingers and hollering and screaming doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It only makes more enemies. Instead, it works much better if you try to establish better communications. So that means if you are farmer and you deliver to Elevator A all the time, you’ve got to make sure and talk to them about what they’ve got planned for the fall. Do they have trains lined up so the farmer can count on moving his the product. If not, that farmer’s got to put pressure on the elevator to go talk to someone —to say, I’ve got ‘x’amount of corn and beans coming in, so I need a certain amount of trains to make sure this thing happens.”

“The future of this thing is all about communications,”Haag said. “We (farmers) are going to have to play a bigger part by talking about what we need.”

The forum, called “Envisioning the Future of Agricultural Freight in Minnesota” was supported by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Minnesota Grain and Feed Association and the Midwest Shippers Association.

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10-year-old “cool runner” using ethanol to fuel her drag racing career

Than Hansen family, from left: Victoria, Luke, Kaye, Corey and Gloria.

By Jonathan Eisenthal

Ten-year-old Gloria Hansen plans to launch her racing career this month.

When she gets behind the wheel, Gloria depends on E98 — a racing fuel that’s 98 percent ethanol, to keep her single stroke, air-cooled engine running cool and smooth, and getting her going faster than 60 miles-per-hour within seconds.

She follows in the footsteps of her dad Corey, who raced all over the Midwest in his late teens and 20s.

As a “junior dragster,” Gloria competes with other kids on a one-eighth mile strip.

At this level of competition, vehicles have a clutch very similar to a snowmobile engine. The driver revs the engine until the clutch engages. To achieve drag racing speed and make a winning run, the racer starts with feet on the brake and the accelerator at the same time.

“Then when she gets the green light, Gloria releases the brake and puts the pedal all the way to the floor to get that hard start. The clutch engages and she’s off,” Corey described.

Gloria has done practice runs, but still needs to get her license in order to compete. The family will head down to their “home track” in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where a tech inspector will watch as Gloria demonstrates that she knows how to stop, how to turn off the engine and how to drive safely.

Corey and Kaye Hansen farm south of Austin, Minnesota, where they raise corn, soybeans and a few beef cattle. Their oldest, Victoria, 12, loves car shows and car racing, but doesn’t care for the drag strip, whereas Gloria’s inclination runs exactly the opposite. She’s always loved the dragstrip. And their youngest, son Luke, has little interest in cars, but loves farm equipment.

10 year old drag racer

Gloria in her junior dragster car.

As a member of the Mower County Corn and Soybean Growers Association, Corey Hansen has been an active booster of homegrown ethanol. They found their way to E98 through a source at the local ethanol company.

“We knew that this car that we got for Gloria had been run on alcohol, that it was set up for oxygenated fuel,” Corey said. “We were going to try E85, but then a friend of ours hooked us up with a source for E98 and we jumped at that, because the higher the ethanol content, the cooler the engine runs. That’s the big thing with these engines — they’re air-cooled. The cooler it runs, the faster you can go. These are essentially lawn mower engines. It’s a five HP engine that your making to go 25 horsepower. A side effect of going for all that horsepower is heat, so running cool is a very important element.”

Ethanol companies cannot ship pure ethanol. Federal alcohol policy requires that they add at least two percent denaturant — typically a petroleum product, to make it undrinkable. When the company ships the denatured ethanol, it has to draw off a sample from each tank, which they keep until the fuel is delivered.

“The junior dragsters only use a cup of gas for a pass,” Hansen said. “I don’t know what they did with that sample ethanol before we took it off their hands.”

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Ethanol powering more Minnesota race car drivers

Cole Queensland

Cole Queensland in his ethanol-powered car at Deer Creek Speedway

For Cole Queensland, using ethanol in his USRA Modified race car has been a smooth transition. So smooth, in fact, it’s helped Queensland get off to his best start in 14 years of racing.

“I’ve had zero issues whatsoever,” said Queensland, who has two first-place finishes in five races this summer. “You hear stories and I was kinda nervous to do it, but it’s been great.”

Queensland races at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, about 15 miles south of Rochester. He’s one of 19 divers who started using ethanol this season in pursuit of The Ethanol Cup, a special points fund sponsored by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) for drivers who race using fuels blended with higher amounts of homegrown ethanol.

Queensland said racing on ethanol requires some adjustments to the carburetor, but once drivers get that squared away and make a few other minor tweaks, it’s smooth sailing. So far this season, nine drivers who run on ethanol have celebrated a victory in the winner’s circle at Deer Creek.

“When something new comes along, people are hesitant about it,” Queensland said. “Then once they figure it out, it’s the next greatest thing. That’s where ethanol is at right now. It’s growing in popularity in racing.”

Ethanol gives drivers a power boost. It also runs cooler, which is easier on the engine and provides drivers the option of using a smaller fan.

And just like it does for consumers, ethanol saves race car drivers money at the pump. Queensland uses E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). He got his first tank from the Freeborn County Co-op in Brownsdale and paid $2.89 per gallon. Racing fuel costs around $8 per gallon.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind ethanol right now within the racing community for a variety of reasons,” Queensland said. “The cost, the horsepower, the fact that it’s easier on motors. A lot of positive discussion.”

Tasseldega Nights
Want to see ethanol racing in action? Want to learn more about the environmental and economic benefits of using homegrown ethanol in your own vehicle? Then come on out to Deer Creek Speedway on Saturday, July 19 for “Tasseldega Nights,” an ethanol-themed promotion from MCGA.

Race fans get into the track for free and can win a four-pack of tickets to a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway in August. In addition to great racing action, you can enjoy many other great family activities, as well as opportunities to talk to Minnesota corn farmers and race car drivers about homegrown ethanol.

See you at the track!

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Top 10 reasons to attend MCGA’s “Tasseldega Nights” on Saturday

Race fans get into Deer Creed Speedway for free this Saturday thanks to MCGA’s “Tasseldega Nights” promotion.

Minnesota’s corn farmers are bringing the ethanol-powered “Tasseldega Nights” to Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley on Saturday, July 19. Race fans get in for free, yes, I said FREE, but that’s not the only reason you should go.

Here are top 10 reasons why we hope to see you at the track on Saturday for “Tasseldega Nights.”

1. Win NASCAR Tickets! The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) will be giving away 4-pack of tickets and pit passes to the NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 23

2. Learn about homegrown ethanol. Ethanol is clean, renewable and homegrown. It’s also less expensive than regular gasoline and a great value during summer driving months when gas prices skyrocket. “Tasseldega Nights” attendees will learn more about the benefits of ethanol straight from Minnesota corn farmers.

3. Ag Cab-Lab. Give your kids a taste of the farming life by having them drive a simulated tractor or combine while harvesting virtual corn, planting soybeans or cultivating a field in the Ag Cab-Lab.

4. Biofuels Mobile Education Center. The 45-foot Biofuels Mobile Education Center is packed with interactive displays, videos and information about ethanol and other biofuels. It also has a virtual NASCAR simulator that makes kids feel like they’re actually racing around the track.

5. Sit in an ethanol-powered race car. Jonathan Olmscheid races on ethanol and will have his car near the grandstand before the green flag drops on Saturday. Kids can sit behind the wheel and get their photo taken with the Ethanol Racer!

6. T-shirts. Commemorate your family’s “Tasseldega Nights” experience with a souvenir T-shirt. These shirts always sell out fast at MCGA racing events, so get your early.

7. The Ethanol Cup. The race for the inaugural “Ethanol Cup” is on. Drivers at Deer Creek Speedway who use E15 (a blend of 15 percent homegrown ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) are competing for the brand new ethanol cup this summer.

8. Music, magic and more. The grandstands open at 4 p.m. A magic show for the kids kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and there will also be a pre-race band and other entertainment before racing begins.

9. High-five Ted Tassel. MCGA’s cute and cuddly mascot, Ted Tassel, will be roaming the grandstands high-fiving race fans, taking selfies, giving away prizes and celebrating with the winning drivers.

10. FREE admission! I know we mentioned already that “Tasseldega Nights” is free, but it’s worth mentioning again, in all capital letters: “TASSELDEGA NIGHTS” IS FREE!

See you at the track on Saturday!

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Rail shipping delays cost corn farmers $72 million

Ag Rail delays

Former MCGA president Tom Haag (left of speaker) participated in a forum on Thursday to discuss ag rail shipping delays.

A new report from the University of Minnesota says rail shipping delays cost Minnesota corn farmers $72 million in lower prices from March to May. The report also said 330 million bushels of corn still being stored on farms throughout the state was worth $122 million less because of rail backups.

The losses average about 30 cents per bushel of corn, which can be the difference between making or losing money in a given year for a corn farmer.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) co-sponsored an Agriculture Freight Forum organized by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that brought together farmers, agency leaders and the rail industry to discuss the issue. About 200 people were in attendance.

“Farmers rely heavily on rail transportation,” said Eden Valley corn farmer and former MCGA president Tom Haag, who participated in a panel at Thursday’s forum. “It was good to come together and discuss this important issue. Now it’s time to start working to get these delays resolved in time for harvest. The losses endured by farmers due to rail delays ripple throughout the entire rural economy.”

A spike in oil shipments from North Dakota and bad weather leading to congestion at rail hubs are blamed for the delays.

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Are the biggest retail gasoline chains offering consumers a choice at the pump?

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has graded some of the largest retail gasoline chains on whether they are providing consumers with homegrown and less expensive options like E15 or E85 at the pump.

Unfortunately, the “big five” oil-company owned chains gen a big fat “F” on their report card.

Fewer than 1 percent of Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Shell stations offer American made renewable fuels. More than 25 percent of independent retailers give consumers the option of filing up with ethanol-blended fuel.

The report card also discovered that big oil-owned stations make it difficult for retailers to offer ethanol blends by including provisions in distribution contracts that prevent the sale of E85 under the station canopy or requiring onerous labeling.

The entire report card is well worth your time and is yet another example of how the Big Oil monopoly has a stranglehold on your wallet every time you pull into a station to fill up. When you’re driving this summer and fall, do your best to fill up at a station that receiving a passing grade from RFA and supports consumer choice at the pump.

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