Diesel fuel sold in some parts of Colorado during the summer months would have to be blended with biodiesel under a bill that won approval in the Colorado Senate on Tuesday.

While the measure, SB38, is limited to fuel sales in nonattainment air quality regions of the state, which currently only includes the Denver metropolitan area, opponents fear it won’t take long before it applies statewide.

Under the bill, diesel fuel must have a 5% blend with biodiesel starting next year, but only between June 1 and Sept. 15 when air quality on the Front Range is at its worst.

But opponents say the bill doesn’t just impact air quality, which they say would have a minor impact at best. Another issue the bill doesn’t contemplate is the cost to farmers and trucking companies in dealing with negative impacts to their truck engines, they say.

“I often refer to the General Assembly as 100 amateurs making professional decisions because we have so much that we cannot be an expert on every issue.” said Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “But on this issue, I am a little bit of an expert. I happen to live in an area where everything we buy, everything we sell rides on a truck.”

Coram and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican farmer from Sterling, said using biodiesel for a part of the year is problematic, in part, because many trucks aren’t rated to handle a 5% blend, and even fewer can handle 10%, where the standard would increase in June 2023.

“We’re asking someone to pay a price that will have a pinhead’s worth of difference in our air quality,” Coram said. “It’s not efficient for us to use this fuel. It also results in less power and reduced fuel mileage, so what is the gain?”

Coram added that no refinery in Colorado produces biodiesel fuel and no pipeline can mix it with regular diesel, meaning it will have to be brought in by truck or rail, both of which operate on petroleum diesel fuel.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, called opposition to the bill “hysteria,” saying that he tried to draft it to be permissive enough to allow fleet owners to get waivers under certain circumstances.

He said other states have gone as high as B20, which means a 20% biodiesel blend, and haven’t experienced the ill effects that the opponents described.

“This wasn’t just some hair-brained idea,” Fenberg said. “The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has endorsed this bill because of the potential for economic development opportunities it could have to farmers in Colorado.

“I’ve met with multiple truckers, the petroleum association, many of the refineries and the different retail gas stations,” he added. “Some are supportive, some are neutral, some are mildly opposed, but not aggressively opposed. A lot of what has come up about this bill … is true if you were running pure biodiesel or a very high percentage. It is not relevant if you are running B5 or B10.”

The bill heads to the House for more debate.

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