Farm Bill Hearings Get Underway-Energy and Economic Growth for Rural America Print
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 20 February 2012 15:09

Prepared Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Hearing on Energy and Economic Growth for Rural America

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

 

I appreciate the Chairwoman setting this hearing today.  The rural development and energy programs administered by the Department of Agriculture are important to rural America and Iowa.

Rural utility programs help provide vital infrastructure and services for rural Iowans.  In addition, we have some very important rural water programs that give assistance to communities for access to safe and affordable drinking water.  And, there are wastewater programs that help small communities deal with requirements placed upon them by the Clean Water Act.

People all too often forget the people in rural America are largely responsible for producing this nation’s food.  Rural Development programs help preserve the way of life in these small communities so young people who grow up and live in these communities can become the next generation responsible for feeding this nation.

I appreciate the Secretary’s comments regarding the importance of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  The REAP program has helped expand market access for renewable fuels as this country continues to look for ways to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

In addition, the topic of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program has been discussed in today’s hearing.  The Secretary and I discussed the BCAP program a couple weeks ago, and I appreciated him taking the time to discuss some of my concerns.  I trust the Department of Agriculture is continuing to do what it can to resolve the concerns I raised, and I thank the Secretary for his attention to the matter.

In the Secretary’s prepared comments, he noted there is an opportunity for Congress to streamline some of the farm bill programs.  It never ceases to amaze me how many programs USDA has to administer.  While most of them serve a very good purpose, we have a responsibility to cut redundancies and inefficiencies and bring common sense and thoughtfulness to some of the programs. I am confident this committee is up for this task.

One example where we may need to focus more attention is the Broadband Initiatives Program under the Rural Utility Service created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  There is a need for rural America to be wired so broadband can be made available.  We need to focus more on unserved areas and be very careful about allowing taxpayer loans to be disbursed to underserved areas where there is already a network funded with private capital.

I and many others are concerned with the funding of duplicative broadband networks and the costs this incurs. I have learned the Rural Utility Service is looking at revising the Broadband Initiatives Program financial models to reflect the changes in the Federal Communication Commission’s 2011 Universal Service Fund Reform Order.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for the Rural Utility Service to revive its approach regarding loans to areas where private providers are already offering broadband service.  I hope this leads to helpful steps to ensure the Broadband Initiatives Program keeps to the original goal of bringing broadband to unserved rural America.

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