Wednesday Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other administration officials joined rural stakeholders from across the country at a clean energy economy forum at the White House. The group discussed renewable energy opportunities for rural communities and the Obama Administration’s efforts to help rural America build a clean energy economy that creates jobs, reduces our dependence on foreign oil and enhances our position in the global economy. The Administration officials also had the opportunity to hear from farmers, ranchers and producers about their experiences in the emerging clean energy economy.

Secretary Vilsack also noted that today marks the one year anniversary of President Obama’s Biofuels Directive and said that implementation of the renewable energy provisions of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) continues to move forward rapidly.

"Renewable energy production is a key to sustainable economic development in rural America,” Vilsack said. “We must rapidly escalate production of biofuels to meet the 2022 Federal Renewable Fuels standard goal, and much of this biofuel will come from feedstocks produced by America’s farmers and ranchers. This will be an increasing source of income for rural America and it represents an opportunity to increase the number of green jobs available not only to farm families, but also to residents of rural communities.”

This week, USDA announced the availability of funds under several key energy provisions of the Farm Bill, including the Biorefinery Assistance Program, Repowering Assistance Payments to Eligible Biorefineries, Payments to Eligible Advanced Biofuel Producers, and the Rural Energy For America Program (REAP). In 2009 alone, the REAP programs funded 1,557 projects in 50 states, the territory of Puerto Rico and the Western Pacific Islands, expecting to reduce green house gases by 1.5 million metric tons of carbon. These investments will generate a projected equivalent of 1.5 million Kilowatts of electricity. USDA is also implementing the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) to provide matching payments to help encourage the development of biomass feedstocks.

Meanwhile, USDA is working closely with other departments including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Navy to promote biofuel production. On Monday, Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson signed a new interagency agreement promoting renewable energy generation and slashing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The agreement expands the work of the AgSTAR program, a joint EPA-USDA effort that helps livestock producers reduce methane emissions from their operations. EPA and USDA's enhanced collaboration will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help farms overcome obstacles preventing them from recovering and using biogas. In January, Secretary Vilsack and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed a Memorandum of Understanding to encourage the development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.

On Earth Day, Secretary Vilsack also announced a new initiative designed to help agricultural producers transition to more energy efficient operations. The initiative, to be piloted in 19 states, will provide on-farm energy audits, and later assist producers in developing long-term energy plans to conserve energy and control costs.