Friday, July 3, 2009

Tennessee Lawmakers Pass Biofuels Bill After Compromise

Tennessee Lawmakers Pass Biofuels Bill After Compromise
By George Orwel
DTN Ethanol Center
June 16, 2009

NEW YORK (DTN) — The Tennessee legislature passed legislation that compels refiners and other fuel suppliers in the state to make available to wholesalers unblended gasoline and gasoline blending stock so they can blend it themselves with ethanol.

The legislation was passed by Tennessee’s House of Representatives on June 9 and the state senate on June 12. The legislation awaits the signature of Gov. Phil Bredesen to become law, said Lee Harrell, a legislative aide for Speaker Pro Tempore of the Senate Jamie Woodson.

The bill also forces refiners and suppliers to make available to wholesalers diesel that is suitable for blending with biodiesel.

The passage of the bill came after Tennessee state lawmakers last month worked out a compromise between Valero Energy Corp and Tennessee fuel wholesalers over the bill.

Valero had threatened to shut down its 195,000 bpd refinery in Memphis if lawmakers advanced the bill into law. The refinery employs about 310 people, according the company’s Web site, and so a shutdown of the plant would mean job losses.

Valero appealed to Bredesen to intervene, arguing the proposal to require the refinery to allow “our wholesale customers to blend ethanol into gasoline made at the refinery” would require capital expenditures of between $130 million and $150 million.

“Coupled with the current economic downturn, this makes no economic sense for the refinery, and the expenditure would cause Valero to seriously consider closing the plant,” company spokesman Bill Day told DTN at the time.

Day added that in order to make gasoline on demand for wholesalers to do their own blending, the Memphis refinery would need to have separate storage and pipeline systems for ethanol-blended fuels and conventional unblended fuels.

Soon after, Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams brought together representatives from both Valero and the wholesalers to work out a compromise. Both sides reached a deal that allowed the bill to proceed into law.

Emily LeRoy, a spokeswoman for Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association, which represents wholesalers, told DTN that the compromise offered Valero some leeway, but the refiner would still have to provide unblended gasoline and diesel to wholesalers.

The version of the bill passed by the state’s congress, a copy of which was made available to DTN, protects refiners and suppliers from any liability in lawsuits arising from downstream blending.

That’s what Valero got out of the compromise, LeRoy said Tuesday.

The legislation also provides a fine of $5,000 per day for noncompliance, and gives the state commissioner of agriculture the authority to inspect refinery premises to ensure compliance. Refiners are also required to keep business records and to make them available to inspectors charged with enforcing the law.

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