OTTUMWA — New legislation means fuel distributors can blend biofuels locally, reducing costs for the consumer as well as giving them options at the pump.

House File 640 passed both the state House and Senate this session by large majorities, though southeast Iowa legislators were not unanimous in their vote.

State Reps. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, and Jarad Klein, R-Keota, voted for its passage, as did state Sens. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, Sandy Greiner, R-Keota, and Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa.

State Reps. Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, and Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, voted against the bill.

The idea behind the bill is to allow local fuel dealers to "splash blend" — mix ethanol with regular gasoline — at their facilities in order to provide customers with more affordable fuel at the pump.

"Providing a retail location for consumers to come purchase fuel and being able to have a choice of what they're purchasing we feel is an advantage we can provide to our customers compared to some of our neighboring states such as Minnesota and Illinois, who have mandated certain fuel blends to be sold at the pump," said Andrew Woodard of Elliott Oil Company in Ottumwa.

Large oil companies, such as BP or ConocoPhillips, want a control on the market, said state Rep. Hanson.

"That would mean in some cases, these people would not be able to supply ethanol blend that many have come to supply because it's more affordable," he said. "That's the way big oil companies would like to have it, control everything that goes through their brand-name station. I understand how they want to do that, but it would not be in the best interest of Iowans."

Splash blending positively affects not only the fuel distributors but also consumers and farmers, Woodard said.

More than 74 percent of all Elliott Oil gasoline sold contains ethanol, Woodard said, lower than the 84 percent within the entire state.

"But we have a strong customer base that prefers to purchase pure lead-free gasoline or premium gasoline," he said. "We are able to provide those customers with what they prefer to use in their vehicle when a lot of other fuel distributors and retailers limit that option."

Vander Linden, who voted against the bill, agreed that ethanol and other renewable fuels "are great for Iowa.

"It's been instrumental in keeping the price of corn high," he said.

But the bill "got kicked back and forth" so much this session that Vander Linden wasn't sold.

"It was a pretty clean bill, but I was reluctant to support it ... because the renewable fuels folks got involved and got an amendment stuck on it," he said. "So they were for it but then it wasn't as good for local blenders. It made it so I just didn't like the bill. In addition, there was an attempt to tack a gas tax onto it.

"I don't have a real good reason for voting against it, I just felt it wasn't quite ready for passage yet."

Hanson said splash blending has been a huge boon to Iowans.

"It makes pump prices more affordable. It also helps out our ag community because they're producing a lot of this ethanol," he said. "Big oil companies just want to reduce the amount of ethanol sold, in my opinion, but if they can control that completely, they have a tighter grip on the market."

Ethanol has several benefits as a renewable fuel, Hanson said, including decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign oil, decreasing the cost at the pump and acting as an oxygenator to protect the environment.

Its production is expanding so ethanol is no longer only corn alcohol, he said.

"There are many different kinds of biofuels now and many experiments going on involving corn stalks," he said. "It's not the old ethanol that we thought about 10-15 years ago that some people worried about using our food supply. It's rapidly changing. It's a win-win for everybody."

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.

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