“Rural economic development has been given a big boost today,” said Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “By passing the 2002 farm bill, Congress demonstrated that partisan political agendas can be put aside and real progress made when the rural economy is on the line.”

The new legislation Congress sent to President Bush includes a farm bill first: an energy title that provides unprecedented support for renewable and sustainable energy, promotes energy efficiency, and endorses the development of next-generation technologies that will help the nation achieve greater energy independence.

“This Farm Bill recognizes that rural America begins, not ends, at the farm's edge,” said English. “It runs down the state roads and through the thousands of communities that have for generations supported the world's most productive farmers.”

Farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses are eligible for 50 percent cost-share grants, loans and loan guarantees to make energy-efficient improvements and adopt renewable energy systems. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has estimated that energy audits alone could yield over $12 million in annual savings.

The new farm bill also promotes the development and use of bio-energy and funds research, demonstration and outreach projects to measure the potential for carbon sequestration to help mitigate green house gas emissions.

“Electric cooperatives are ready to help achieve those savings, and to advise their member-owners on energy efficiency and the best use of new and emerging technologies,” English said.

“Another important aspect of this bill is its focus on rural development,” he said. “Many of the programs vital to rural Americans, the Rural Water Waste Program, and the Business and Industry loan program, for example, are fully funded in the new bill.”

NRECA is the national service organization that represents the nation's 900 plus consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide electric service to 35 million people in 46 states. Visit web site http://www.nreca.org.