[FoRK] Four more years...

Adam L Beberg beberg at mithral.com
Wed Dec 17 10:58:07 PST 2008

... of the ethanol scam and 99% of our food being corn. At least this 
will help the stress on wall street - all those bankers getting big 
checks not to grow food will help.



December 17, 2008
Iowa Ex-Governor Picked for Agriculture Secretary

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has selected former Gov. Tom 
Vilsack of Iowa to serve as his agriculture secretary, according to 
officials familiar with the decision, and will make the announcement on 
Wednesday as he works to round out his remaining cabinet nominations.

Mr. Vilsack, who briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination 
in the 2008 race after serving two terms as governor, is a strong 
proponent of renewable energy and developing the nation’s alternative 
fuel industry. He will be joined at a news conference here by Senator 
Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, who will be nominated as interior 

Mr. Vilsack’s nomination comes at a time of extraordinary tumult for the 
American agricultural industry, which not only has been battered by the 
recession, but is also increasingly entangled in the contentious debate 
over energy policy. The Agriculture Department is also contending with a 
sharp increase in the demand for food assistance in the wake of the 
economic turmoil.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Vilsack are regarded as staunch advocates of 
ethanol and other bio-fuels as a way to reduce the nation’s reliance on 
foreign oil. And Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress are working on a 
major economic stimulus package, in which they intend to promote the 
creation of thousands of new jobs tied to “green energy” industries, 
including the production of solar and wind energy.

One of the first major decisions Mr. Obama and Mr. Vilsack may have to 
make is whether to grant the ethanol industry’s requests for billions in 
federal aid in the stimulus bill, which Mr. Obama has said he hopes to 
sign into law quickly, perhaps on his first day in office.

“The big issue for him and any incoming secretary is going to be 
biofuels, that’s the sector that right now is in such a volatile 
position,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, 
a nonprofit group that is a leading critic of federal farm subsidies. 
American farmers, Mr. Cook said, are “hitched to both the food system 
and the energy system, both of which are oscillating.”

Mr. Vilsack, 58, sought the presidential nomination for about three 
months, dropping out shortly after Mr. Obama entered the race. At the 
time, Mr. Vilsack criticized the campaign as a process that rewarded 
intense fund-raising over innovative ideas. He endorsed Senator Hillary 
Rodham Clinton and served as a co-chairman of her campaign, often 
criticizing Mr. Obama as lacking experience for the job.

But during the general election, Mr. Vilsack energetically campaigned 
for Mr. Obama, promoting their common ideas on renewable energy and 
rural growth. Late last month, Mr. Vilsack told friends he did not 
believe he would be selected because he had not been interviewed, but 
Democrats familiar with the process said the two men got along well 
during a recent meeting in Chicago.

Mr. Vilsack, like the president-elect, is a strong advocate of combating 
global warming and developing alternative sources of energy. He was the 
co-chairman of a task force last year on climate change for the Council 
on Foreign Relations, which recommended phasing out subsidies for mature 
biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, as well as reducing tariffs on 
imported biofuels like Brazilian sugar ethanol.

“Let us build a 21st-century rural economy of cutting-edge companies and 
technologies that lead us to energy and food security,” Mr. Vilsack 
wrote in one of several op-ed articles he had published during the 
campaign. “Such an investment will revitalize rural America, 
re-establish our moral leadership on climate security and eliminate our 
addiction to foreign oil.”

Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, said Tuesday evening 
that the biggest challenge facing the next agriculture secretary would 
be writing rules for the new farm bill. Mr. Buis praised the selection 
of Mr. Vilsack, who as governor promoted the use of alternative energy 
as a means of revitalizing rural America.

“Governors understand what’s going on out there,” Mr. Buis said. “With 
the severe economic conditions in rural America, it’s good to have 
someone who understands the challenges we face.”

Mr. Vilsack, a native of Pittsburgh, moved to Iowa to live in the 
hometown of his college-sweetheart-turned-wife, Christie Vilsack. His 
career in politics was unexpectedly born in 1986 when a disgruntled 
resident of Mount Pleasant barged into a City Council meeting and killed 
the mayor.

Mr. Vilsack stepped in to serve as mayor. He later ran for the State 
Senate and in 1998 was elected governor in a campaign that even his 
closest friends did not believe he could win.

Mr. Vilsack, who has spent the fall semester as a political fellow at 
the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, works as a 
lawyer in Des Moines. Four years ago, he was among those who were 
considered to be a running mate for Senator John Kerry. Mr. Vilsack was 
not on the short list of candidates to join Mr. Obama’s ticket.

Experts said Mr. Vilsack’s experience as governor of a major 
corn-producing state makes him intimately familiar with many of the 
issues, but it also raises questions about whether he will be partial to 
growers of the crop that his state is known for.

“You can’t be a politician from Iowa and not be identified with a 
pro-corn, pro-ethanol stance,” said Mr. Cook, who leads the 
Environmental Working Group. “I just hope he will be more realistic and 
shoot straight with the public about what the prospects are of this in 
terms of energy independence.”

Jeff Zeleny reported from Chicago, and David M. Herszenhorn from Washington.

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