WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2011– At the end of the Obama Administration’s week-long focus on the rural economy and the White House Rural Council, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced today another federally funded project for the nation’s rural communities. 
He announced $55 million in support for 107 community facility projects in 31 states and Puerto Rico. The USDA Rural Development’s Community Facility Program projects include educational facilities, healthcare facilities and other public buildings such as assisted living centers, hospitals, fire stations and food pantries. 
“These not only improve quality of life, but they also provide construction job opportunities, which are important particularly for small contractors that will be employed fixing, repairing and modifying these facilities,” Vilsack said. 
The $55 million designated for this project, he said, are resources already appropriated by Congress for the current budget year and are not contingent on future budget decisions by Congress. 

This is the sixth rural economic project Vilsack announced in the past two weeks. He announced $100 million in financial assistance to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners and assist with wetland restoration on almost 24,000 acres in the Northern Everglades Watershed. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is doubling its amount of loan money to small businesses. The Department of Labor and USDA are partnering to ensure field offices in rural areas have access to DoL information on job opportunities. The Navy, Department of Energy and USDA announced a partnership to increase the production of aviation biofuel. Also, 900 more Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) awards were distributed to companies implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency measures in their operations. 

The biofuel project involving the partnership between the USDA, DoE and the Navy drew criticism from Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, who said that the plan threatens Minnesota’s 21 ethanol plants.

“‘I think that is a big a problem,” he said. “It is just another competition for us in ethanol that we don’t need really.

Vilsack responded to Peterson’s concerns today by saying the partnership does not threaten ethanol operations in Minnesota because it requires production of aviation fuel instead of standard transportation fuel, which he said are two separate entities with different approaches. 

“We’re still going to continue to need what the ethanol producers in Minnesota and Iowa are producing in order for us to wean ourselves off of foreign oil,” Vilsack said. “The President has challenged us to reduce our reliance by a third in 10 years, and that’s going to require all the ethanol production facilities as well as additional bio-refineries throughout the country.” 


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