Streamlining fuel lab and potential deal with UK could help Dept. of Ag. dig out of leftover money pit

10/10/2012 01:18 PM

State agriculture officials told lawmakers Wednesday that they think they have solutions to the money pit of the state fuel lab.

The fuel lab, proposed and started by former Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer, is tasked with quantity and quality testing of fuels and pesticides.
It cost taxpayers $900,000 in 2011.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who took office in January, brought in Larry Cox, former state director for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, to clean up the mess as executive director of consumer and environmental protection.

Backlogs of fuels sat untested which, Cox said, left the public unprotected from potentially poor quality fuels.

Cox said the lab now will only test fuels if there has been a complaint. “From the point we send an inspector to do that draw until the time it’s through the laboratory, we have results between 24 to 36 hours,” he said.

And the Department of Agriculture is looking to partner with the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research. University employees would do all of the fuel tests and provide results to the Department of Agriculture who would evaluate the results and take appropriate action.

Steve Kelly, Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Administration, says that the partnership between the Department of Agriculture and UK has the potential to be a win-win situation both sides as well as the taxpayer.

Several years ago, Farmer sold legislators on the lab by predicting that the Department of Agriculture would raise $500,000 a year in outside testing. From the date the lab became operational in 2008, the department has generated $2,325 total from outside testing.

Overall, Comer told committee members that he’s already taken a number of steps to stop the financial bleeding of the fuel lab including downsizing of the the staff and changes in management. Comer estimates that his cutbacks in operational expenses will save Kentucky taxpayers $400,000 in 2012 alone.


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