The experience that I have gleaned from a lifetime in agriculture has taught me that even the most successful farming operations face adversities. The vagaries of weather, volatile commodity markets, mechanical woes and, occasionally, just bad luck, come with the job. These setbacks underscore the role of government policies that can promote financial stability, improved production, stronger ecosystem services and wider margins.
Over the past decade, government policies like the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets biofuel blending targets for our nation's transportation fuel supply, have helped farmers like me and other growers here in Nebraska maintain a viable agricultural industry. They have enabled stable demand and growth that allows for more intergenerational operations like mine, all while promoting sustainability.
With that backdrop, President Trump has nominated Kathleen Hartnett-White to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a position of primary influence on energy and environmental policy in this administration.
She is a former Texas regulator and previously served as the energy and environmental director at a conservative Texas think tank. In the latter position, she espoused an almost ideological embrace of fossil fuels and opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard and other renewables like wind.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Hartnett-White could have a negative impact on my job as a family farmer, and on other farmers and rural economies across the country.
She has, in the past, called for the repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard, a major economic engine for corn and soybean producers. Hartnett-White has described the biofuel mandate as "counterproductive and ethically dubious."
She conveniently backed off those comments in testimony during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this month. But committee members and renewable fuels advocates remain skeptical as to whether Hartnett-White fully grasps how the Renewable Fuel Standard generates a significant and stable revenue stream that is turned by agricultural producers into investments that boost productivity and sustainability, and preserve and enhance water, soil and air resources.
The fear is that a fossil fuel advocate like Hartnett-White could jeopardize the Renewable Fuel Standard and endanger the rapidly growing renewable energy sector here in Nebraska. The sector includes 25 ethanol production plants with a combined annual production capacity of nearly 2.2 billion gallons. The sector ranks second in the country in ethanol produced. And every year, it requires nearly 500 million bushels of grain — a figure not lost on Nebraska farmers.
Hartnett-White's commitment to fossil fuels has also led her to dismiss the technological advances and dropping prices that have spurred wind and solar energy development across the country. She has called what has become an inevitable shift to cleaner energy "green folly" and "a false hope."
Nebraska is one of the top states in the country for potential wind energy generation, and with its manufacturing expertise, the state could be a powerhouse for the wind industry. Currently, the wind sector directly and indirectly supports up to 4,000 Nebraska jobs. It has generated $2.4 billion in capital investments. And it is paying up to $5 million in annual lease payments to Nebraska rural landowners without displacing cash crops.
The economic benefits renewable energy offer Nebraska and its rural communities are both significant and necessary. A confirmation vote on Hartnett-White's nomination by the Senate committee is approaching. Members need to keep the nation's farmers and small communities in mind before confirming someone with a questionable understanding of the role renewable energy plays in sustaining rural America's economy.
Bart Ruth is a Rising City, Nebraska, corn and soybean producer and former president of the American Soybean Association. Ruth is chairman of 25x'25, a national advocacy group with the vision that America's farmers, ranchers and forestland owners can meet 25 percent of the nation's energy needs with renewable resources by 2025.