Representative Al Doty (D-12B) is my hometown legislator. Although I'm not a constituent, the first-term lawmaker from central Minnesota sat down with me to talk about energy and rural revitalization.
Maria Surma Manka: What are you working on right now as Vice Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee?
Representative Doty: Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) is a big priority. In this initiative, we'd take marginal land out of production and plant native prairie grasses, some of which could be used for biofuels.
Unfortunately, we don't have the funds to plant enough grasses to interest any large biofuel facilities, but it could really set Minnesota up to be the World Bank of carbon sequestration. That is, grasses absorb carbon dioxide [CO2 - a major global warming pollutant], so planting more of them can help fight global warming.
Farmers want to pass their farms down to their children, but our climate is changing so fast that we can't rely on just corn or wheat for farming. Instead, we have to take a long-term view of the situation. Growing native grasses for fuel provides a diverse economic incentive, in addition to food crops.
MSM: What's your favorite renewable energy?
Rep. Doty: I love algae! You can get so much fuel from just a few acres of algae - it's around 50 percent oil. You've seen lakes that are clean one day and green the next, right? That's how fast this potential fuel source can grow.
But it's important to keep in mind that we've moved beyond the stage of "silver bullet solutions" for global warming. We've progressed to looking at silver BBs and algae is a part of that. I know it's not going to be only algae that helps solve the energy problem, but I'm really excited about it.
MSM: What does a clean energy Minnesota look like to you?
Rep. Doty: It looks like three or four Minnesotas: Small generators of local electricity may be the way we go. It could be hydropower in northeast Minnesota, biomass in the central part and wind in the southwest. We need local energy and economies, under local control, that allows people to stay in the rural areas like the ones I represent.
We need improved infrastructure - particularly transmission lines. It doesn't make economic sense for a farm to put up a turbine if the excess power can't be sold back to the grid. Clean energy has to make economic sense too.
And we have to look at many options: I would support coal tomorrow if we could clean it up for global warming. Do you know environmentalists who think coal will have to be part of our energy mix?
MSM: I do.
Rep. Doty: That's good to hear. We need to be realistic about it.
MSM: Congratulations on overriding Governor Pawlenty's veto and passing a transportation bill.
Rep. Doty: That was fantastic. It's amazing how angry people get about a nickel increase. Gas is $3.05 a gallon. That's 65 nickels. Why are people so angry about the 70th nickel? That nickel is going to create jobs and strengthen our deteriorating roads and bridges. We need this nickel.
MSM: If you could pass just one bill this session, what would it be?
Rep. Doty: Healthcare reform.
If I could pass two bills, it would be healthcare reform and healthcare reform.
If I could pass just three bills, it would be healthcare reform, healthcare reform and healthcare reform.
People can't keep up with healthcare costs; it's a burden on employers, workers, everyone. We need a single-payer method that will save us money with lower overhead and with the bargaining options with drug companies. Healthcare costs are destroying the middle class in Minnesota.
MSM: Do you think this legislature can make a difference?
Rep. Doty: You know, when I first came to the Capitol I really didn't know what to expect of my fellow legislators. Are we all crazy for wanting to do this job? But I am so impressed with the integrity of folks here - we may disagree but we all want to do the right thing for Minnesota.