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Barrow gearing up for 2008, including re-election run
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As 2007 was winding down and Congress was taking a break, Congressman John Barrow of Georgia’s 12th district took a few minutes of his time to talk about the upcoming year.

Right off the bat, Barrow discussed who is and who might be running against him for the House of Representatives in the 2008 election.

“There are a few people who have expressed an interest in running. I have heard several names,” said Barrow (D-Savannah). “Mr. (John) Stone is one of the announced candidates, as is Chris Edenfield. There is also a fellow named Ray McKinney, who was running for president but has lowered his focus and is running for my seat now.”

He also discussed the possibility that Max Burns, whom Barrow unseated in the 2006 election, might challenge him for his seat.

“I’ve heard from mutual friends that Max Burns is moving to North Georgia and building a home in Dahlonega. He’s joining the faculty at North Georgia College – according to mutual friends,” said Barrow. “We actually do have mutual friends.”

Barrow is a member of both the Agriculture Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee. He is the only member of Congress, on either side of the aisle to serve on both of these committees. The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over 60 percent of all legislation that goes through Congress — more than all other committees combined.

Since Congress has recently passed an agriculture bill and an energy bill, there is a lot more focus on growing corn, especially for the production of ethanol. Barrow was asked if this added emphasis on ethanol might somehow affect other areas of agriculture.

“No doubt about it. In fact, the big story in the agriculture community is how much of an impact two small things have had on agriculture,” said Barrow. “In 2002, the last farm bill, they put in small incentives to build up ethanol plants. Elsewhere in federal legislation they passed a mandate which states gasoline must have not less than a certain percentage of ethanol or other renewable sources of fuel built in with the gas.”

“Those two small things have produced an explosion of corn production because corn just happens to one of the products where nature does the job of cooking the sugar almost to the point of ethanol — it’s a very short step to ethanol.”

Barrow said this has put added pressure on other areas of the agricultural economy that rely on corn products.

“This has dislocated a great many other sectors of the agricultural economy that depend upon corn for other use besides putting a few drop of gas in our gas tanks. The poultry, hog and beef producers have felt it in feed prices,” he said. “What it brings home to me is to be very careful in drafting legislation.”

Barrow mentioned that politicians and policy makers emphatically try and not show interest in picking winners and losers. They also try to draft legislation that looks very neutral on the surface. He said there is a hidden danger if the effects of legislation aren’t thoroughly thought through.

“If the only way in which, within existing technology, the mandate or incentive can be met is through one avenue, using one crop and one feedstock, then don’t be surprised if you haven’t picked — whether you realize it or not — one commodity to do a whole lot more work than it’s already doing,” he said.

“The lesson that I take away from this and that I’m trying to preach to my colleagues on both committees is this: Be careful what you do and try to create incentives for us that create added value for material not committed to some higher or better use. Like pine slash — what’s left behind when you harvest a pulp crop.”

In Silverton, in Barrow’s district, the first commercially viable cellulose-based ethanol plant is about to go into productions, using pine slash and timber waste products.

“This plant is the first in the country to try and produce ethanol on an industrial scale from things not convertible with a conventional ethanol plant,” said Barrow.

Even though he is excited about the potential of the pine slash plant, he cautions about over-committing a resource already in use by other industries.

“Georgia has enough bio-mass to do lots of things, but it doesn’t have enough bio-mass to do gasoline only. We got a lot of bio-mass that’s already spoken for — in the pulp industry, the paper industry, in the timber industry,” Barrow said. “For us to divert all of that into something else could have serious repercussions.

“The trick is to find the stuff that isn’t being used or doesn’t have a higher and better use than conversion to ethanol and devote all of our research into converting that to ethanol. That creates added value which everybody is better off than they were before — nobody has to lose in order for someone else to gain.”

Phil Boyum is a staff writer with the Statesboro Herald.