St. Paul - Making fuel from plants is not such a good idea after all, an environmental think tank says.

The New York Times reports a World Resources Institute report claims that plant-based fuel such as ethanol and biodiesel are not green alternatives to fossil fuels like gasoline.

“I would say that many of the claims for biofuels have been dramatically exaggerated,” institute President Andrew Steer said. “There are other, more effective routes to get to a low-carbon world.”

The comments do not sit well with Midwest biofuel advocates, who long ha ve said that corn, soybeans and other crops are a major part of the effort to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

However, the increasin g use of crops for biofuels has resulted in a controversy about whether crops would better be used for food instead of fuel.

The Times story said: “Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton and primary author of the report, said that more recent science had challenged some of the assumptions underpinning many of the pro-biofuel policies. ‘We’ve only got one planet, with only so much land. If you use land for one purpose, you can’t use it for another.’”

Jason Hill, who studies bioenergy at the University of Minnesota, reviewed the report at the Times’ request and agreed that turning food crops into fuel makes little sense.

“It’s true that our first-generation biofuels have not lived up to their promise,” Hill said. “We’ve found they do not offer the environmental benefits they were purported to have, and they have a substantial negative impact on the food system.”

However, Hill said he is optimistic that crops grown specifically for fuels have more potential than the current practice of using corn and soybeans for most biofuel production.

Bloomberg Business news offers the pro-biofuels side of the issue.

Pat Gruber, a Colorado ethanol executive, said that his operation uses corn and other plant waste to make ethanol and isobutanol.

“They don’t consider food properly,” Gruber said of the report’s authors. “The starch in corn doesn’t add value to anything; it’s just calories.”

Added Keith Alverson, a South Dakota corn farmer: “There is more than enough corn to meet all demands: food, fuel, feed and fiber.”

No cuts, then cuts

A reporter asked Gov. Mark Dayton whether his state budget proposal would lead to a loss of jobs.

The governor responded that there could be some jobs left vacant in an effort to save money, but he did not think anyone would lose their jobs.

A few hours later, news broke that the Human Services Department plans to shut down a Willmar facility and cut beds in others, which could mean staff cuts.

The number of beds in state mental health facilities in communities such as Willmar, Brainerd and St. Peter will be trimmed, the West Central Tribune reported.

The Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services program, housed on the Minn-West campus in Willmar, is proposed to be closed, a state official told the Tribune. About 40 people work there.

Fergus Falls and Carlton facilities also could close.

To pick up the slack, the state is looking to the private sector to provide services for clients, the Tribune reported.

Dayton proposes $45 million in new funds for mental health programs, potentially by adding three new treatment facilities in “underserved” parts of the state.

Sen. Lyle Koenen, D-Clara City, said he was “disappointed” with Dayton’s proposal to close the Willmar Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services facility. Along with the local jobs, Koenen said, the facility “delivers important services for children with the highest need of complex mental health treatment.”

Ex-lawmaker to PUC

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed former Republican lawmaker John Tuma to the state Public Utilities Commission.

Tuma, who begins his job Monday, was a state representative serving parts of Rice, LeSueur, Scott and Dakota counties before becoming a lobbyist.

“Over more than two decades of legal, legislative and advocacy work, Mr. Tuma has had a tremendous impact on shaping Minnesota’s energy policies,” Dayton said.

The PUC regulates electricity, natural gas and telephone industries, including pipelines.

Fighting water definition

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and more than 100 representatives have introduced a bill that would limit the federal Environmental Production Agency’s ability to change water-related rules affecting agriculture.

The United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act is in response to EPA plans to expand its control over water down to what some opponents say are “mud puddles.”

“The EPA, unfortunately, does not seem to understand how their proposed regulations would actually impact farmers and ranchers,” Peterson, D-Minn., said. “While the intent of the interpretive rule was to provide some clarity, it only creates more confusion and red tape. This legislation will keep this rule from going into effect and allow farmers and ranchers to do their jobs without unnecessary regulation.”

Childcare union battle

The battle over whether to allow childcare providers to join a union continues.

State Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, introduced the Hands Off Child Care Act to would repeal the child-care unionization law of 2013.

“The vast majority of child-care providers do not want be forced into a union,” Franson said. “Given the high costs of child care in Minnesota, this legislation will help alleviate costs that unionization would bring providers, moms and dads.”

The bill allows child-care providers who get state subsidies to join a union to negotiate with the state. Opponents say that the providers are independent businesses, not state employees, so a union is inappropriate.

Minnesota prevents pollution

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Minnesota businesses lead the country in preventing pollution.

That information comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which reported that state businesses reduce pollution by nearly 1 million pounds from 2012 to 2013.

Walz top sportsman

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., is the new chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of nearly 300 members of Congress.

“I look forward to working with my fellow sportsmen and women in Congress to protect our natural state treasures and promote our strong hunting and fishing heritage,” said the Minnesota Democrat who represents southern Minnesota.

Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.