Agriculture secretary nominee Vilsack endorses biofuels drive

Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden

FILE – In this Dec. 11, 2020, file photograph previous Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who the Biden administration selected to reprise that role, speaks through an party at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photograph/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tom Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of agriculture, pledged Tuesday to emphasis on climate improve initiatives and get the job done to tackle racial inequities in agricultural help programs.

Vilsack, who testified prior to the Senate Agriculture, Nourishment and Forestry Committee, would bring significantly on-the-job expertise to the situation. In addition to serving two phrases as the governor of Iowa, he expended eight several years as President Barack Obama’s Agriculture Secretary.

In his opening remarks, Vilsack, 70, sought to dispel concerns that he would be coming to the task with antiquated concepts.

“I understand that I am back once again. But I also comprehend that this is a basically various time,” he claimed, referencing a require to rebuild parts of the country’s agricultural infrastructure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The truth is we lacked openness, fairness and competitiveness and resiliency, as the COVID-19 crisis has revealed, in quite a few of our agricultural marketplaces,” he reported.

In his testimony, Vilsack intensely endorsed boosting local climate-pleasant agricultural industries these types of as the generation of biofuels.

“Agriculture is a single of our first and greatest ways to get some wins in this climate spot,” he stated.

He proposed “building a rural economy primarily based on biomanufacturing” and “turning agricultural squander into a range of products.” He pledged to do the job intently with the Environmental Safety Company to “spur the industry” on biofuels.

Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa questioned regardless of whether Vilsack’s commitment to biofuels would clash with the Biden administration’s general public determination to switch the federal automobile fleet to electric cars and trucks and vehicles.

“We’re likely to will need each,” he responded, stating there was home for both local weather-pleasant industries to prosper and pointing out that the Navy has begun to deploy warships that run partially on biofuel.

With systemic racial inequity now a nationwide speaking place, Vilsack explained the Agriculture Office wanted to seriously analyze if it was sufficiently supporting farmers of color.

He envisioned an “equity taskforce” to identify what he identified as “intentional or unintended barriers that make it challenging for people to obtain the applications.”

Sonny Perdue, agriculture secretary in the Trump administration, sought to purge hundreds of thousands of men and women from the SNAP or Supplemental Diet Aid Application — generally acknowledged as foods stamps. That work was defeated in court docket, and Vilsack mentioned the SNAP application was significantly essential to the country’s restoration from the pandemic.

He stated he wanted his office to get the job done specifically with governors across the region to make certain SNAP benefits had been being accessed efficiently and to address the challenge of foodstuff deserts in small-revenue communities.

“It’s all perfectly and fantastic to give anyone a SNAP card and say, ‘Go to your community grocery retailer and invest in far more food stuff,’” he reported. “That’s excellent, assuming you have a grocery retail store. But if you never have a grocery keep, what then?”

Vilsack looks to enjoy bipartisan assist and confronted no serious criticism from Republicans on the committee. Senators from each get-togethers seemed to treat his confirmation as a foregone conclusion, and at one particular level New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand referred to Vilsack as “Mr. soon-to-be Secretary.”

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