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By Tim Leeds 

Rehberg talks research funding at Bio-Energy Center


U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg was at Montana State University-Northen's biofuel research center Thursday, taking a tour of the facilities and talking about federal funding prospects with the center's staff members and the dean of the College of Technical Sciences.

"Of course, money is our problem, " Rehberg said after a tour of the Bio-Energy Center at Northern. "I hope we will not always be in this place, in this position. We're in the position of spending more money than we're taking in."

He told a group including Dean Greg Kegel, Jessica Alcorn-Windy Boy, director of the research center, and chief researcher Nestor "Jon" Soriano Jr. that in the nation's $3 trillion budget, there is some flexibility. He requested the university staff members help with suggestions where money could be found, as well as providing him information to use while debating proposals in Congress.

"Help me help you, " Rehberg said.

He said specific information he can use to offset questions, arguments and objections would be helpful in getting funding for the research — and there will be arguments.

"You know the Archer Daniels of the world are going to oppose something that would be in competition," he said.

Kegel said receiving federal funds is crucial for the state-of-the-art research facility to continue its work, although he agreed that, at some time, the federal debt must be addressed and reversed.

"This center does depend on federal money, " he said. "We do need some federal money to work."

Rehberg said the U. S. House now is working on a comprehensive energy policy for the nation, which includes alternative energy.

He said part of a bill he is sponsoring would promote new oil production in the United States, including with off-shore oil drilling.

He wants to see new revenue coming from that production used to fund and promote alternative energy research and production, he said.

Rehberg said Northern is helping to lay the groundwork for shifting away from dependence on foreign energy sources. Building the knowledge and infrastructure is crucial, he said.

"We are dependent on oil and gas right now, and we don't want to be forever, " he said, adding that the transition will be painful without the technology and infrastructure in place to make the change.

"That's what we're doing, " Kegel said. "Some people don't understand that. We do need help with that too.

"It isn't going to happen over-night, " he added.

Rehberg said the work Northern is doing could put Montana in a position to be in the driver's seat for the emerging renewable fuel technologies.

Montana fell behind other states, with its tax code taking much of the blame, Rehberg said, in developing coal or oil resources. That lack of infrastructure has led to neighboring states such as North Dakota and Wyoming booming with oil production to the east and coal production to the south, he said.

While Montana would be unlikely to take a share of corn-based ethanol production from the Midwest, it could be on the forefront of biofuel research and production, he said.

"What you have provided here … is much of the infrastructure in this arena to draw … not just the technologies but the people associated with the technology and ultimately the dollars, and then every one else will be playing catch-up with us, " he said.

Rehberg said economic growth will have to be part of the national budget picture — the budget can't be balanced with cuts alone, but the economy can catch up if it's given the opportunity to.

"Well, this is part of that, " Kegel said.

Rehberg said he would do what he could to help fund Northern's research, but, again, the question is what can be realistically and responsibly spent on technology, growth, research and production while facing the amount of deficits the nation now is incurring.

"If we don't come to grips with it now, it's debt, and once that debt gets beyond our ability to pay, what's the ramification? " he asked. "I don't want to be sitting in Congress when it falls apart. Then I would be part of the problem, not the solution."


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