Legislative Notebook: Farmers Look To Add Butanol As Biofuel

By Don Davis

Minnesota farmers soon could produce a new biofuel, butanol.

“We see Minnesota as being a tremendous place to produce butanol,” said Adam Schubert of Butamax, a company formed by BP Petroleum and Dupont to produce the fuel.

State House and Senate agriculture committees Wednesday approved without dissent a change that would allow sales of the new fuel. The bill expands the state biofuel definition beyond corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel that have been produced for years.

If the bill passes the Legislature, fuels such as butanol could be used to meet the state requirement that biofuels be mixed with petroleum-based gasoline.

“Under current law in Minnesota, we cannot market the product to be sold in gasoline in Minnesota,” Schubert said.

A year ago, lawmakers were leery of butanol and asked supporters to return this year with more information.

The NextGen Energy Board suggested that the ethanol mandate be expanded. Representatives of the Minnesota Ethanol Producers Association and the Minnesota Corn Growers support the change.

Brian Kletcher of Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton said his facility is considering converting to butanol production.

“The opportunity in front of us in the next 15 years is unbelievable,” he said. “We can take steps now to ensure the future of the state of Minnesota as a leader in biofuel production.”

Butanol, which can be mixed with gasoline or used for other purposes, could be made from a variety of plant matter, ranging from corn waste to wood to switchgrass.

Seeking drug solution

Legislative efforts to stem synthetic drug sales the past few years have not kept up with the industry, Duluth law enforcement and medical experts told a House committee Wednesday.

“We easily have five to 10 patients a day,” St. Luke’s emergency room doctor Scott Wolff said.

He told of one patient who “got angry at his teeth and he pulled out his incisors.” When he came down from his high, the doctor said, the man was pleasant and “he wished he had his teeth.”

Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he keeps track of the issue statewide, and “we are not aware of a successful prosecution” from new laws to make synthetic drugs illegal.

Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said he is not ready to introduce a bill to deal with the subject, but “clearly, this is a big problem for my community. But this is a big problem for the entire state. … We need to figure out what we can do.”

The issue is not new to lawmakers. In recent years, they have passed bills aimed at allowing state officials to respond quickly to the rapidly changing synthetic drug industry.

Makers of the new-form drugs frequently change their composition so the chemicals remain legal.

“The drugs are advertised as being safe and legal,” Wolff said. “It is obvious to my partners and I that they are not.”

Second Amendment affirmed

As Minnesota lawmakers debate whether to increase government gun control, the Supreme Court ruled in a case that the state can prohibit felons from owning guns.

The state high court declared the gun possession right given by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment is “not unlimited.”

“Specifically, the right to possess a firearm does not extend to ‘any weapon whatsoever in any manner,’” the court ruled in a case involving a felon who had a firearm.

Justices said the state law banning felons from having guns is constitutional.

Rural tax credits eyed

Democratic legislators are offering a bill to increase tax credits for greater Minnesota small businesses.

“This allows businesses to get credit for investing in new jobs,” Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, said. “We need to encourage businesses to make these investments because it will benefit every local community where this takes place. And for greater Minnesota, this is even more important.”

Racino request back

A bill giving Minnesota horse racing tracks permission to add slot machines has been introduced.

The long-running request is pushed by Running Aces harness track in the northern Twin Cities, but also would allow Canterbury Park in the southwest to have slots.

“It’s time for an up or down vote on this popular non-tax source of revenue,” Running Aces board member John Derus said. “The principle of fairness for harness racing and a facility that employs over 600 Minnesotans is real and we renew our call for an honest discussion on how slots at horse tracks can help the state.”

Canterbury last summer gave up its long-held quest for a so-called racino when it reached a deal with the nearby Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which will pay the track millions of dollars to improve its purses.