Happiest with his hands on the wheel

Happiest with his hands on the wheel

February 11th, 2020

Mike Bull reminisces about his brother and him delivering boxes of potatoes to Boston Garden at half-time of a Celtics game. He laughs, “I think it was 1976. We were in awe of those giant, sweaty players towering over us.”

Last fall, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz appointed Bull to the Governor’s Council on Biofuels (GBC). At first glance, the policy lead for the Minnesota Center for Energy & the Environment (MnCEE) may seem an unusual fit for the GBC and its focus on transportation.

After all, MnCEE’s expertise is in energy usage and efficiencies pertaining to buildings and the de-carbonizing of our energy sources. And a decade ago, Mike was advancing renewable energy policies and planning at Xcel Energy. Prior to that he was at Wind on the Wires (now Clean Grid Alliance) developing wind energy policy.

And if that’s all you know, you don’t know Mike Bull. “I’ve held several positions in energy policy and planning, and have come to realize I’m happiest with my hands on the wheel–directly helping to improve a situation.”

“My dad was executive director of the Maine Potato Council, who had a long career in state- and federal-level agriculture work. And both of my grandfathers were farmers,” adding, “Agriculture is critically important to our state’s economic–and transportation future. For me, the appreciation of agriculture is generational.”

Bull served as Senior Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment to Governor Tim Pawlenty in the early 2000s. He was instrumental in garnering bipartisan support for biofuels and in Minnesota’s biodiesel requirement becoming law. He also worked with the public-private efforts of the American Lung Association in Minnesota and Minnesota Corn Growers Association, leading to a doubling of the state’s E85 station network and national recognition.

And you know all those blue highway exit signs identifying E85 stations? Bull and partners at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture helped get those approved to connect flex fuel drivers with fueling sites.

During the ascent of biofuels in the last 20 years, some within the Twin Cities’ environmental community have been, at best, lukewarm to biofuels. At worst, some have been publicly hostile. Some simply view the future of transportation as only electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, Minnesota drivers are burning more petroleum than ever and battling over pipelines continues. Those pipelines deliver Canadian Tar Sands oil–arguably the highest water-, carbon- and energy-intensive fuel source on earth. An estimated 70% of Minnesota fuels are sourced in those Tar Sands.

And that’s where Bull sees his role. “The Pathways report recommends a doubling down on biofuels while transitioning to more electric vehicles. I saw the GBC announcement and wanted to apply.” He pauses, “I think I have good standing within the environmental community and I want to help people understand the advancements made in biofuels over the last 20 years.”

He has confidence in the diverse GBC membership reaching consensus on recommendations for Minnesota lawmakers. “The effort is bolstered by Governor Walz’s leadership and the Council is a good group of people, meeting in good faith.”