Wellstone fought hard for Minnesota farmers, ethanol producers and renewable fuels

nLiberal Senator always fought for the the ‘little fellers,' domestic energy over foreign oil
By | October 01, 2002
This month Minnesotans mourned the tragic loss of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), an unbowed advocate of liberal politics who died with his wife, daughter and five others in a plane crash Oct. 25.
The death of Wellstone, 58, came just 11 days before the critical midterm elections that had him locked in one of the nation's fiercest Senate races against Republican Norm Coleman.
Wellstone supported ethanol, and many of his best friends in Congress did too. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) remembered Wellstone as "the soul of the Senate" and said the nation "has lost a fearless public servant and tireless advocate for justice." The day of the fatal crash, fellow liberal Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), broke down in tears in front of TV cameras before he memorialized his closest friend in the Senate. "Paul truly had the courage of his convictions and his convictions were based on the principals of hope, and compassion, the Good Samaritan, helping those left on the roadside of life," he said.
While Wellstone was not always as openly passionate about ethanol as he was healthcare, civil rights and labor, he helped Minnesota ethanol producers when it counted the most.

He came to the Senate in 1990, while the Senate was shaping the influential Clean Air Act and the subsequent Regulatory Negotiations that gave the industry a boost. In 1997, Wellstone co-sponsored legislation to extend the ethanol tax incentive through 2007. More recently, he was a member of a Senate panel that fought diligently for a nationwide ban on MTBE.

"The MTBE additive is dangerous to the environment and should be prohibited, but ethanol usage ought to be increased," he said in Washington two years ago. "Increased usage of clean-burning ethanol will help protect the environment. . . and help Minnesota's struggling farm economy."

When former President Bill Clinton left office in 1990, Wellstone praised him for not granting California a waiver from the reformulated gasoline (RFG) requirement of the Clean Air Act, saying, "This is a major victory for Minnesota's farmers and the cooperatively owned ethanol plants in our state."

Wellstone was among the first lawmakers to call for a national renewable fuels standard (RFS) - currently being decided in Congress - that would expand the role of domestic, renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel in the nation's energy policy.

Wellstone always fought for what he called the "little fellers" and he constantly hounded big business and big oil interests.

"Big oil doesn't own me," he said in a recent political debate. "I'm for alternative energy. When we import energy, we export dollars. We need biodiesel and ethanol."

Wellstone's fellow Senators said even those who did not agree with his political beliefs respected his convictions and his spirit.

An online tribute to the late Senator put it best: "Paul Wellstone was one of a kind. He was a man of principle and conviction, in a world that has too little of either. He was dedicated to helping the little guy, in a business dominated by the big guys. We who had the privilege of working with him hope that he will be remembered as he lived every day: as a champion for people."