Sen. Klobuchar visits St. Paul campus

The Minnesota senator heard about alternative fuel research.

Liz Riggs

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar used a visit to the University’s St. Paul campus Sunday to show off the University’s progress in the area of renewable energy research.

The Minnesota senator arrived with freshman colleague Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Both Klobuchar and Tester serve on Senate committees that deal with energy issues.

The lawmakers spent roughly an hour on campus in the Biofuels and Bioproducts Innovative Laboratory, housed in the basement of the Gortner Lab Building, where they met with representatives from several University departments.

Marc von Keitz, associate director of the Biotechnology Institute, delivered a presentation about the projects he is currently working on involving biofuel and bioenergy research. Von Keitz said at the University, renewable energy projects have developed across academic disciplines.

In addition to environmental research, von Keitz said academics in social science areas have been a critical part of these interdisciplinary teams.

“You also have to understand the policy implications,” he said.

The basement lab von Keitz manages is a fermentation facility that works primarily with sugars.

“We are in the very, very early stages still,” he said.

Following his presentation, Klobuchar asked von Keitz and the other faculty present what they needed most from her, as a policymaker.

“You’ve got 2 percent of the United States senators” as an audience here, Klobuchar told von Keitz.

Von Keitz said research funding, not just for the University, but for universities across the country, was crucial.

“Sometimes solutions do not just arrive from a straight line,” von Keitz said, explaining that funding research in many areas, rather than on just one kind of biofuel, is most important.

Tester agreed.

“I think it’s critical that you keep all of those avenues open,” he said.

Bev Durgan, dean of University Extension Services, reiterated von Keitz’s point.

“We don’t just want to go from dependence on one (energy source) to another,” Durgan told the senators.

Klobuchar said she remains devoted to the idea that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Besides coming to the University to showcase Minnesota’s alternative energy research, Klobuchar said it was important for her to hear from the researchers themselves to understand what stage of work they’re in.

“Instead of rewarding oil companies, we need to reward projects like this,” Klobuchar said, specifically referring to the University’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she intends to propose adding more research money to the 2007 Farm Bill.