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Don Davis, Published July 20 2009

Minnesota political notebook: Top experts back biofuels ‘done right’

ST. PAUL – Some of the country’s top biofuels experts, including harsh critics, agree that multiple problems the industry faces are hurdles that must be solved.

In a just-published Science article, scientists from the University of Minnesota, Princeton, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley wrote that recent complaints about biofuels such as corn-based ethanol can be overcome.

“The world needs to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but recent findings have thrown the emerging biofuels industry into a quandary,” said University of Minnesota’s David Tilman, an ecologist and lead author of the paper. “We met to seek solutions. We found that the next generation of biofuels can be highly beneficial if produced properly.”

Problems with the first generation of biofuels include overuse of some crops such as corn, which has included planting crops on land some say should not be cropped. Also, using corn to produce ethanol, many environmentalists say, requires too much water and energy.

Many also complain that using corn for fuel takes away from livestock feed.

The next generation of biofuels needs to use grasses and other plants that have less impact on the land, the scientists decided. Also, plant residues, wood and waste products should be used to produce fuels, they agreed.

“We need to transition away from using food for biofuels toward more sustainable feedstocks that can be produced with much less impact on the environment,” said the U of M’s Jason Hill.

FDA vs. USDA

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson is using his position as House Agriculture chairman to keep farm regulation under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the Food and Drug Administration.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Peterson as saying: “We are a little skeptical of FDA. We are very concerned about them getting involved in grain farms, livestock farms.”

Debate on the subject comes as the House is preparing a food-safety bill that was prompted by several recent problems, including peanut butter contamination discovered by Minnesota health officials.

The FDA has been criticized for its handling of food-borne illness problems, while farmers say the USDA has a good safety record.

Field grows quietly

The Minnesota GOP governor’s race grew by two in recent days, but without much fanfare.

Unlike most campaigns in most elections, the announcements were not grand events with hundreds of supporters cheering on the new candidates. Instead, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie held a low-key news conference in a Capitol complex conference room, and former State Auditor Pat Anderson and Rep. Tom Emmer e-mailed news releases.

Among the few at the Hann news conference were his family and Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar, his campaign chairman.

Earlier, Rep. Paul Kohls and Sen. Michael Jungbauer walked through the Capitol press room to let reporters know they are running. Former state Rep. Bill Hass told some reporters he was running.

Only Rep. Marty Seifert has had the traditional campaign kickoff, holding an announcement with supporters at a Twin Cities factory, and then heading out on a four-day trip around Minnesota, with supporters showing up at most stops.

Many candidates say they plan formal announcements later.

Since Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would not seek a fourth term, fellow Republicans have flocked to the governor’s race, with more expected to get involved. One who decided not to run is former Jim Ramstad, a Jamestown, N.D., native who long served the western Twin Cities in the U.S. House.


Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com