A provision viewed by supporters as another step along the state’s road to increased biofuel production turned into a discussion about any connection between biofuels and the increasing cost of food.
HF3902/SF3683*, the omnibus agriculture and veterans affairs policy bill, sponsored by Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) and Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy), lays the groundwork for increasing the biodiesel mandate incrementally from the current 2 percent blend to 20 percent by 2015.
After passage by the Senate 60-0 April 21, the House language was attached to the Senate file through a delete-all amendment. Passed by the House 121-7 April 24, the bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.
An unlikely mix of provisions relating to pesticide use, biofuel mandates, industrialized hemp, livestock producer grants and veterans issues are contained in the bill. Funding for many of the programs is included in HF1812, the omnibus supplemental budget bill now in conference committee.
A food versus biofuel discussion ensued on the House floor, with a series of unsuccessful amendments offered by Rep. Ken Tschumper (DFL-La Crescent), who called the use of food products for biofuels a serious “big picture issue.”
“We have to strike a new balance between addressing global warming and the food issue. It would be a mistake to implement the new mandate,” he said.
Under the bill, the state’s current 2 percent biofuel diesel blend mandate would increase to 5 percent beginning May 1, 2009, and 5 percent each of the next two years to cap at 20 percent by May 1, 2015. Once the new blend requirement is reached, it would be effective May through September only, with the minimum content for the remainder of the year set at 15 percent.
“We have soybean prices that are two, two and a half times higher than a few years ago. … this is going to create artificial demand and pull other lands (wetlands and rain forests) into production (for biofuels),” Tschumper said.
Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) called the discussion “extremely important.”
“We’re not saying that we should ban biofuels,” she said. “Maybe we are not ready to mandate it, or increase the mandate. If the jury is still out on whether this is a good thing, maybe we should hold off on a mandate.”
Looking for peace in the valley
A highly contentious debate in committee over whether an animal should need a referral from a veterinarian to receive chiropractic care spilled over on to the House floor.
The bill would give definition to the practice of animal chiropractic as well as course training and licensing requirements. The original language did not call for a referral, but only notification to the animal’s veterinarian about any treatment. The Senate position, however, called for a referral.
To bring “peace in the valley,” Rep. Lyle Koenen (DFL-Clara City) offered an amendment to the bill calling for a referral, and requiring that chiropractors provide a separate room in their facilities for treatment of animals.
Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) asked that the amendment be split as he opposed the referral requirement. “It still has a higher standard for animals than humans. I can go to a chiropractor without a doctor’s approval. They should be at the same standard as humans or less,” Faust said. After his motion to split the amendment was accepted, each part of the amendment was approved.
Rep. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) suggested that if the bill goes to conference committee, a four- or five-year sunset date should be considered, so that the provisions’ implications can be reviewed.
The bill also calls for grants to eligible livestock producers wanting to invest in their operations. It piggybacks on provisions proposed for inclusion in the omnibus supplemental budget bill that would provide grants to producers up to $50,000 for improvements to their operations.
Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who has tried for six years to get a dairy investment program enacted, called it “a good day for cows and livestock in Minnesota.” Referring to the state’s declining dairy industry, he thanked Juhnke for his efforts to avoid “disaster in the pasture.”
The bill also calls for several study groups to explore more efficient delivery of veterans services, including:
• a veterans health care advisory group to provide the Department of Veterans Affairs with advice and recommendations on providing veterans with quality long-term care;
• a study group to conduct strategic planning for existing and future state veterans homes, including the Minneapolis veterans home;
• a county veterans service group to review the 2008 report from the Office of Legislative Auditor on the county veterans services offices; and a
• study of issues related to veterans employment within state government.
At Issue: An unlikely mix
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At Issue: A good day for cows and biofuels
Food versus fuel debate highlights ag and veterans affairs omnibus bill debate
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After a busy interim, members have big plans for 2008.
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