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Gilbert plan: Bring jobs to Texas through biofuels

By JJ VELASQUEZ
Aug. 10, 2010 at 3:10 a.m.

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Hank GilbertBorn in Houston in 1959.

Began agricultural work at 10 years old on ranch near Tyler.

Earned his bachelors degree in agricultural education from Texas A&M University

Taught high school agriculture for 13 years

Ran for Agriculture commissioner in 2006, carrying 46 counties.

In 2006, founded Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, which raises awareness about the Trans Texas Corridor projects in Texas and fights for private property rights and against eminent domain abuses.

A Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner was in town Tuesday to tout a plan he believes will bring jobs to the area as well as wean Texas off foreign oil.

Hank Gilbert spoke on the steps of the Victoria County Courthouse, his cowboy hat shading him from the 95-degree heat, about his plan to make Texas a major biofuels producer.

"What biofuels can do is add another segment of agriculture industry that we really need at this time," said Gilbert, who runs under the Democrat ticket but identifies with conservative ideals.

Gilbert said he believes that under his plan, crops and refineries could be installed in the Crossroads and along the Texas coast from Brownsville to Beaumont. He said the climates of West and South Texas are perfect for growing two biofuel-producing crops: sugar cane and cassava.

Neither crop is being used in Texas to produce ethanol, and Gilbert said cassava isn't even raised anywhere in the United States. Sugar cane is grown in Texas but only to harvest sugar.

Five people listened to Gilbert speak on implementing a plan that he admitted faces some challenges from politicians in Austin who are tied to the oil and gas industry.

He said if he is elected commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture in November, the state could be producing ethanol from sugar cane and cassava by the end of 2011.

Gilbert's Republican opponent is Todd Staples, the incumbent.

Farmers who produce the crop would receive carbon credits from the government because ethanol production emits less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than its fossil fuel counterparts, he added.

While limiting damage to the environment, Gilbert also said the plan would be an economic boon.

"If we can put this land into production, we know with every so many acres, you're going to create X number of jobs," he said. "With X number of acres, you're going to create X number of refineries, and those refineries are going to produce full-time jobs. It will be a substantial job-developing industry for the state."

"It's a huge economic boon, but more importantly than that, we're actually producing a product that we need to be producing," he added. "And it's Texas-grown. It's a Texas pride product."

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