In his first news conference as U.S. Ag Secretary, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack promised the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be the "national leader in climate change" debate.
"This, of course, will involve conservation, greater efficiency with the energy we have and expanded opportunities in biofuels and renewable energy," Vilsack said as he read from prepared remarks.
Vilsack said he’ll focus on expanding research and development and pursue the development of "additional" biofuels and energy sources.
"We need to make sure that the biofuels industry has the necessary support to survive the recent downturn, while at the same promoting policies that will speed up the development of second and third generation feedstocks for those biofuels that have the potential to significantly improve America’s energy security and independence," Vilsack said.
Vilsack was Iowa’s governor from January, 1999, to January of 2007 and during that time the number of ethanol plants in Iowa grew significantly. According to Vilsack, ethanol producers are "under particular strain" today. "There will be a premium on ethanol producers who are efficient and effective in the management of the facilities," Vilsack said. "U.S.D.A. has a role, I believe, in helping to develop and promote best practices that will increase and enhance management efficiencies which in turn will allow more of these producers of ethanol to stay in business."
President Obama has said he hopes to double "renewable energy" production in the U.S. and Vilsack, Obama’s ag secretary, is promising the U.S.D.A. will be front and center in the promotion of renewable energy. "We need to create additional demand for advanced biofuels and renewable energy," Vilsack said. "Working with farmers — for example — to determine how best they could to change their operations to embrace renewable energy and fuel in their operation; working with rural communities to encourage the same."
Vilsack predicts the economic stimulus package will include proposals directly aimed at renewable fuels, on top of already existing tax credits and government loans which are available for expansion of the industry. "It’s important for the U.S.D.A. to aggressively promote these efforts," Vilsack said.
"I think we’re in a position to begin the march, which President Obama has laid out, of creating new ‘green collar’ jobs. It can and should and I believe ought to begin in rural America and I think U.S.D.A. is prepared to do this." Vilsack said Obama recognizes the U.S. is in difficult times and there’s a need for a government action to boost the economy. Vilsack, like Obama, warns that "it’s going to take a while for us to turn the corner."