What’s in the Clinton Plan for Rural America and Renewable Fuels?

August 30, 2015 |

clinton-iowaAs the nation’s newspapers spend another month wrapped up in Email-Gate and Benghazi-Gate, we look at a proposal that’s won raves from the renewable fuels community.

In Washington, the America’s Renewable Future group committed the remarkable act, in this US presidential election cycle, of praising a presidential candidate’s views on renewable fuels.

Specifically, the group thanked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton generally for her Vibrant Rural America plan, and specifically for  “her commitment to Iowa’s farmers, consumers, and investors with her call of a strengthened RFS. We enthusiastically echo that call, especially in light of President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency’s disastrous Renewable Volume Obligation proposal.

It was a remarkable week for the RFS and its supporters, but also for Secretary Clinton, who hasn’t received much praise from any sector in recent weeks. Her candidacy has been bruised by limping “trust” ratings from voters, tepid enthusiasm from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, and a flap over personal email usage while at the State Department that continues to simmer.

What exactly did Secretary Clinton offer?

First, the Secretary notes that “America’s 46 million rural residents make up nearly 15 percent of our population, and …rural America provides the foundation for the entire country’s economic success.” She noted that “too many rural communities are not sharing in our nation’s economic gains. Unemployment and poverty are too high, commodity prices have recently declined, and necessary components to economic security – including accessible health care and affordable education – are unavailable in too many rural communities.”

The proposal had 4 key focal points. We’ve bolded the key items for renewable fuels and the bioeconomy, eight in all.

1. Spurring investment to power the rural economy.

◦ Expand access to equity capital for rural businesses by increasing the number of Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs), which make equity investments in small rural businesses.
Simplify regulations for community banks to ensure they are focused on funding our small business and are not swallowed up by a never-ending cycle of examinations and paperwork.
Create a national infrastructure bank and invest in infrastructure to improve the country’s rural transportation, water, and broadband infrastructure so that it meets the demands of our modernizing industries and creates jobs in rural America.
◦ Streamline, expand, and make permanent the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) to increase the amount of credits available to low-income communities and add new credits for hard-hit communities that have seen jobs and production depart.
◦ Strengthen USDA grant programs to make them less about bureaucratic buckets and more about funding flexibility, leveraging local resources, and measuring results.

2. Raising agricultural production and profitability for family farms.

◦ Support the next generation of farmers by doubling funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program to provide education, mentoring, and technical assistance to aspiring farmers and ranchers.
◦ Build a strong local and regional food system by doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets, SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food, and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.
◦ Provide a focused safety net for farmers and ranchers by continuing to make progress in targeting federal resources in commodity payment, crop insurance, and disaster assistance programs to support family operations that truly need them in challenging times, like when weather-related disasters devastate whole areas of the country.
◦ Fight for comprehensive immigration reform because America’s immigrants and migrant workers play a critical role in developing and supporting America’s agricultural economy.

3. Promoting clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship.

◦ Fully fund the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides assistance to producers – including a set-aside for minorities and veterans – who are working to conserve and improve natural resources on their farms and ranches.
Strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard so that it drives the development of advanced cellulosic and other advanced biofuels, protects consumers, improves access to E15, E85, and biodiesel blends, and provides investment certainty.
Support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth by doubling the loan guarantees made through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program.
◦ Launch her Clean Energy Challenge to give states, cities, and rural communities ready to lead on clean energy the tools, resources, and flexibility they need to succeed. In doing so, Clinton will achieve the twin goals of having more than half a billion solar panels installed in this country by the end of her first term and producing enough clean renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years of her taking office.

4. Expanding opportunity in rural communities across America.

◦ Make critical investments in our youngest learners by doubling funding for Early Head Start and working to ensure that every 4-year old in America has access to high-quality preschool in the next ten years.
◦ Ensure cost won’t be a barrier for college. Clinton’s New College Compact incorporates President Obama’s plan to make community college tuition free so that young students and displaced workers can gain the skills they need to succeed.
◦ Improve health care access for rural Americans by further integrating telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and other information technologies into our broader health system.
◦ Ensure that rural communities have better access to substance abuse prevention, early intervention, and treatment. Substance abuse is striking small towns and urban areas across America.

The Bottom Line

We’d like to see more candidates issuing comprehensive plans for Rural America that include strengthening of the RFS, doubling loan guarantees, increasing the number of RBICs, creating a national infrastructure bank and streamlining rural bank regulation.

At the moment there are 20 official and unofficial US Presidential candidates, 3 on the Democratic and 17 on the Republican side — so many, that FOX News has been forced to create a sort of minor league farm system among Republican candidates to put some interplay into television candidate debates. But there’s been not much activity either on RFS support or on comprehensive plans for Rural sectors — despite the Iowa presidential caucus less than five months away.

It’s a good plan, that will need more detail to be offered in coming months.

For example, what exactly does Secretary Clinton mean in offering to “Strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard”? What does an National Infrastructure Bank look like? So far, we’ve seen benefits, but not features in the proposals.

But for right now, the Secretary’s outline stands out as the most comprehensive offered so far. Though one cautionary note: most of the renewable fuels proposals will require legislative support, either in budgeting or in lawmaking; this Congress has been the “No Do Crew” so far, and no one expects much legislative activity in the 2016 term either.

We’ve heard about “Change You Can Believe In” during the 2008 election cycle, only to find the Obama White House unable to deliver a legislative program after 2009. Changes on Capitol Hill may be required to change outcomes from Washington, if there is legislation in mind.

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