Local legislators said the chance still is strong — and they are pursuing many avenues — to restore funding for Montana State University-Northern’s biodiesel research program.
Andrew Brekke of Havre thanked and congratulated Reps. Wendy Warburton and Kris Hansen, who were at the legislative video conference in Havre Wednesday, and Rep. Tony Belcourt, who did not attend, for their attempt to restore $400,000 for the program that was cut from the governor’s proposed budget.
Warburton’s floor amendment to restore the funding failed before the budget bill passed the House.
“We did have a close vote, so I think that will help them over in the Senate,” Warburton said. “I feel pretty good about them being able to, hopefully, get that money back over on the Senate side.
“It still remains to be seen, but we did get some good bipartisan support on our side, so that can only help,” she said.
Hansen said work is being done outside of the votes on the floor. She said she is contacting Montana’s U.S. senators and representative to try to help with production.
“We have a problem right now with getting farmers interested enough and confident enough to plant enough materials that we can attract a long-term production facility, a big production facility to the area,” she said.
Hansen said she would like to see land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program planted in camelina, which grows well in marginal land.
“I think that might help us get a hold on the raw materials and might be able to get some farmers more interested and more willing to plant it,” she said.
She said Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway says the tests on using biodiesel it is doing in conjunction with Northern and Earl Fisher Biofuels in Chester are going well, and it plans to expand its testing. That could have an “amazing” impact for Montana and for U.S.-grown products.
“The $400,000 never should have come out of the original budget,” Hansen said, adding that she doesn’t believe the House Appropriations Committee had enough information and didn’t realize the impact the testing could have on business in the state.
Brekke said the legislators also should look into pressing the members of the congressional delegation to ensure that farmers can insure camelina crops. He said Sen. Jon Tester sponsored a bill to do that soon after he was sworn in, but the bill never has progressed.