ENERGY and environmental policy could take a different course during President Barack Obama's second term, and the fear is that they could get substantially more troublesome for agriculture.
Several key Cabinet and Administration officials are leaving town, setting up a path that may lean more left, according to insiders.
Ahead of the new year, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced her departure.
Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will be stepping down, and it is assumed that Energy Secretary Steven Chu will announce his resignation soon.
The oil and gas industry was often at odds with Salazar, and the agriculture community waged constant regulatory and legal battles with EPA under Jackson's watch.
Outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is seen as a frontrunner for the EPA job but also could be a candidate for the interior post.
David Holt, president of Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an independent consumer group representing virtually every sector of the U.S. economy, sent a letter to Obama earlier this month in response to Jackson's resignation.
CEA urged Obama to nominate an individual who is committed to the "spirit of cooperation" and a new era in which public/private partnerships allow new projects to move forward in an environmentally responsible way. In the letter, CEA notes its commitment to work with the new administrator to help ensure a more effective EPA and a brighter future for America's energy consumers.
"As you consider who to nominate to be the next EPA administrator, keep in mind the difficult relationship among EPA, energy producers and consumers, which has been a tumultuous and oftentimes adversarial one in the past few years. This has, regrettably, created an EPA-led regulatory environment that saddles American businesses and consumers with higher energy costs and delayed a strong U.S. economic recovery," CEA wrote.
While speaking to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that Jackson was willing to visit farms and ranchers and have frequent discussions with farm leaders, which he thought made a difference in terms of the attitude the administrators had about issues involving and affecting rural America.
"That constructive engagement must continue with the new administrator, and I pledge to you that I will do everything I can to make sure that happens," he told the audience.
In a statement, Obama said as interior secretary, Salazar "helped usher in a new era of conservation for our nation's land, water and wildlife."
In Salazar's resignation statement, the agency noted that under his leadership, the U.S. Department of the Interior played a keystone role in developing a secure energy future for the U.S. both for renewable and conventional energy.
"Today, the largest solar energy projects in the world are under construction on America's public lands in the West, and we've issued the first leases for offshore wind in the Atlantic," Salazar said. "I am proud of the renewable energy revolution that we have launched."
Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted that overall, Salazar received a positive response for the job he did, using his Colorado roots to help him adequately address western grazing issues and helming the Bureau of Land Management.
Former Sen. Bryon Dorgan of North Dakota is another name floating around for the interior post.
Importance to ag
Vilsack, who will be staying on as secretary of agriculture for Obama's second term, highlighted why it's important for farmers to take notice of who holds the key Cabinet positions.
He acknowledged that Chuck Hagel, the nominee for defense secretary, has garnered criticism. However, because Hagel is from Nebraska, he "understands and appreciates the roles of the bio-based economy" and would be a secretary who could champion that commitment, Vilsack explained.
"Farmers and ranchers in this country have a stake in who the secretary of defense might be, and we ought to express that," Vilsack said.
As for the treasury secretary, Vilsack noted that the department has a new market tax credit program that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to support economic opportunity. He said the nominee needs to be questioned about his or her view on the new market tax credits and the ability to grow rural America.
Vilsack also discussed his efforts to help better educate the U.S. Department of Commerce about the positive impact rural America has on the economy and the importance of continuing that dialogue moving forward.