As presidential candidates make their way through Iowa and beyond, courting caucus goers and primary voters, it will be vital they include stops in rural communities contributing to America’s economy. It will be key they show up, listen, and find meaningful ways to engage our rural communities.
Rural industries are improving our energy stability and defining our transportation future. Value-added agriculture — manufacturing that makes the most out every granule of grain, waste, and grass — is a bedrock of stable, rural economies.
Right here in Iowa, biofuels have paved the way for rural economic development while making gains for our environment. Revitalizing rural communities with good-paying and high-tech jobs, they’re providing an additional market for our farmers and growing cleaner options at the pump across the nation.
For progressive candidates to understand all voters, they need to experience these promising innovations. Through biofuel production, rural communities are helping us achieve key progressive environmental goals to offset and neutralize carbon emissions and climate change, relieve disparate air and health conditions, and improve job security for working families.
Biofuel production is a sound investment in a greener future. During my time as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture we measured how effectively biofuels reduce greenhouse gases. The results are astounding. Corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 43 percent compared to gasoline and has the potential to reduce emissions by as much as 76 percent through further efficiencies, land stewardship, and conservation practices that our farmers are constantly implementing.
Iowa biofuels are not only delivering cleaner, low carbon fuels today, they are driving investment in biomass and switch grass, which can lower GHG emissions more than 100 percent. Recent biofuel innovations from the fields of Iowa are unleashing the potential for ultralow carbon fuels from recycled waste. Each innovation leads to more jobs and economic growth in America’s struggling rural communities.
As Americans continue to choose ethanol, they’re helping to offset toxic, cancer-causing chemicals that come with petroleum-based fuels. Reducing and replacing these chemicals lowers asthma rates and urban smog. These incredible biofuel benefits are not even the tip of the iceberg.
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Stability in this market comes from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) support — that support drives investors and innovation. Candidates interested in supporting a greener solution to our transportation needs would do well to support year-round E15 — a fuel made with 15 percent biofuel — and commit to ending handouts to oil industry giants via small refinery waivers.
Iowans and rural Americans across the country know these value-added benefits open endless opportunities. The common-sense practices from the farm to the pump are employing rural Iowans, greening our environment, and saving consumers costs at the pump. Iowa’s rural communities are prime real estate for America’s clean energy future. As we continue to innovate biofuels and invest in our growing wind generation, we can show the world a greener future beyond air pollution and offshore drilling.
To truly understand the innovations taking place and the industry impact, I encourage 2020 candidates to visit rural Iowa and these innovative industries. When you meet with rural Iowans, you find people working hard to make the world a better place. What starts in the field results in cleaner air for all of us and good jobs in communities that need them.
Successful campaigns have been able to find ways to attract rural voters around kitchen table issues. In 2007 and 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama spent 89 days visiting Iowa homes and businesses, powering him through the caucus and to the White House. The best way to win is to start the conversation. Because what gets discussed around kitchen tables in Iowa ends up feeding and fueling the world.
• Tom Vilsack is a former Democratic governor of Iowa and served as U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama.