Given the opportunity to have a congressman’s ear for an hour on Friday, Montana State University President Waded Cruzado was forthcoming about how congressional actions could negatively affect the future of MSU and education.
“We are a little concerned as a research institution about these cuts that have happened in sequestration,” Cruzado told U.S. Rep. Steve Daines. “We are already hearing rumors about impending cuts to some of our grants. It’s sad because many of these grants have been years in the making, and it’s stopping some of these (wind power) projects right in the middle of innovation.”
Daines’ meeting with Cruzado was part of a three-hour visit to his alma mater, which included a tour of wind-power research facilities and the opportunity to tell students what he’s learned after almost three months as a freshman Republican congressman.
Daines told the president that the sequester cuts were a blunt instrument, intended to be across the board, but that the cuts needed to be more priority based. He said with only three Montana congressmen, they would have to work together to reshape the sequester cuts.
Cruzado said she was also committed to holding the line on tuition so no family feels a higher education is out of reach. But financial aid will also be affected by the sequestration so she asked Daines to keep that in mind.
The staff at the MSU Montana Wind Applications Center did their best during their hour to show Daines how they’ve led in some areas of wind-power innovation, even though they’re working in cramped labs on a minimal budget.
The center has just gotten off the ground, thanks to a three-year Department of Energy grant it received in 2008. That grant is set to expire in one more month, and center professors tried to emphasize the center’s importance to students’ education and America’s energy future.
Center director Robb Larson said Montana already has many turbines pumping energy into the grid but more could be developed, along with more jobs.
“Montana has the highest wind potential of all the Western states, mostly in the eastern two-thirds of the state,” Larson said. “There was a lot of development last year as people tried to take advantage of the remaining DOE funding.”
Wind turbines can now generate up to 6 percent of the nation’s energy, according to Forbes magazine.
Other students and professors described their research developing better materials and processes for generating and storing wind energy, from composite materials for bigger turbine blades to silicon used in solar panels.
The professors may have a hard sell because the national GOP platform, developed this summer, focuses almost entirely on fossil-fuel development. It does say to “encourage the cost-effective development of renewable energy” but eliminated the details that were part of the 2008 platform.
Daines asked Larson about ways wind energy might be wedded to natural gas production to create a steady supply of energy.
The hour Daines spent at each location was longer than he usually has to attend meetings for the three committees and eight subcommittees he’s assigned to in Washington, D.C. Daines is assigned to the Natural Resource, Transportation and Homeland Security committees.
“You can never attend a complete meeting. You’re just running around to 15- and 30-minute meetings,” Daines said. “I’d like to see members serve on fewer committees so you become more of an expert on fewer things.”
After listening for two hours, it was Daines’ turn to talk as a guest lecturer for a political science class.
He said he still hasn’t learned to answer to the title “Congressman” when people try to stop him on the street, but he thinks about the responsibility daily.
He described two of his most difficult votes: voting against $60 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy victims and voting for the Violence Against Women Act.
“Part of the (Hurricane Sandy) spending was legitimate, but part of it was full of pork. I would have voted yes if they could have offset the spending from the current budget,” Daines said. “I voted for the Violence Against Women Act, although a lot of Republicans voted against it. But I represent Indian tribes in Montana, and Indian women are being beat up by nontribal members. So we gave the reservations more authority in the tribal court to prosecute.”
Daines will spend the next two weeks of the Congressional spring break talking to voters around the state.