Tester: Montana is on the cutting edge of green technology

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

A local farmer — and U. S. senator — was the featured speaker Tuesday at a two-day summit on biofuels in Havre.

Democrat Jon Tester, a Big Sandy organic farmer, has long been an advocate for producing renewable fuels, both in his position in the state Senate and since he was elected to the Senate. He told people at the Agricultural Biofuel Summit in Havre put on by the Ethanol Producers And Consumers, or EPAC, that the country is at a cusp in biofuel production, and Montana is poised to take advantage of the oncoming surge.

“We in Montana have a front-row seat as we move forward because we’re leading the way, ” Tester said. “We’re already leading the way. ”

Tester said people have heard a lot of doom and gloom on the streets during the past two years of recession.

“Some folks want us to think that the sun isn’t going to come up tomorrow, ” Tester said. “The fact is that none of us in this room buys that one bit. ”  He said people at the summit are among those working to make things better. He added that the policies made in Washington have to be a part of that mix. That includes policies on energy independence, he added.

“I think one of the tools we can develop in our toolbox is home-grown energy. Ethanol and biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal, the list goes on, ” he said, “and I know that if we do the right polices and the right work is done on the ground it will mean jobs and opportunities for generations to come.

He said one of his efforts was to put forth a pilot project for crop insurance for camelina, an oilseed with high prospects for making fuels like biodiesel and aviation jet fuel. Congress approved that, but now the federal Risk Management Agency that oversees crop insurance to implement the program.

We are going to continue to pound away at the Risk Management Agency to make sure that they agree with what Congress has done, …” he said. “Montana farmers are loaded with innovation. They will grow what the market demands, but they can’t do it without a safety net and they can’t do it without a market. ”  Another bill would extend the Department of Defense contract out to 20 years for biofuels instead of the current five-year limitation. Those contracts would create a demand that could create opportunity and jobs in Montana and other states throughout the nation, Tester said.

He said another investment needs to be made in addition to physical infrastructure like ethanol plants. That is human infrastructure, he said.  “Creating people who can meet the needs of the marketplace, ” Tester said. “That is being done right here at Northern.  He said he was at a meeting with people from Arkansas about education where one of the people at the meeting cited the education being provided at Northern and how they wanted to emulate that.

The Senate right now is considering a bill including $800,000 in funding to expand its work in camelina biofuels.

“There are some folks out there that would say this isn’t the right way to spend money, ” Tester said. “I will tell you that because of jobs and energy independence I think it’s a great investment. ”

The opportunities in renewable fuel should be seized while they still are there, he added.  “I think they will revitalize rural American, ” Tester said, noting that a 40-million gallon a year ethanol plant would add 32 full-time jobs to a community and add $1.2 million to its tax revenue.

“We have opportunities to grow, we have opportunities to process. It will reinvigorate or economy and it will add value to our communities. ”