Bustos presents Rural Green Partnership

Congresswoman recruits farm communities to take on climate change

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos talks with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a 2017 event in Decatur. (Flickr/Lance Cheung)

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos talks with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a 2017 event in Decatur. (Flickr/Lance Cheung)

By Ted Cox

An Illinois U.S. representative is recruiting farmers and farm communities to take on climate change.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline announced plans this week for a program she calls the Rural Green Partnership. While not as ambitious as New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, it seeks to bring rural areas into the battle against global warming and the “climate chaos” Bustos says it’s causing around the world.

In a video accompanying the announcement, Bustos pointed to the extensive flooding Illinois suffered earlier this year, especially in her western Illinois district along the Mississippi, Illinois, and Rock rivers.

“We have seen flooding that’s become more the norm than the exception,” Bustos said, with so-called 100-year and 500-year floods now almost routine. She added that, when she saw ducks floating in a flooded farm field, “I think we’ve got an issue.”

Farmers increasingly recognize that, too, and Bustos emphasized they have a stake in the issue, saying, “They rely on a healthy environment to make a living.”

According to Bustos’s office, the Rural Green Partnership is based on five key principals. It will “expand and improve conservation programs that are respected and well known to farmers,” to draw them into the effort. It will invest in rural infrastructure, including access to broadband, while encouraging green infrastructure such as carbon pipelines “to transport captured carbon to locations where it can be stored or utilized.” It will provide low-interest loans, or loans without any interest, to encourage new clean energy development. It will also increase research funding and foster a green workforce in rural areas through unions, apprenticeship programs, community colleges, and technical training centers.

“Climate change may be the most complicated challenge our country has ever faced,” Bustos said in a statement. “But I intend to meet the challenge head on and give rural America — including the families in northwest and central Illinois — a seat at the table as we tackle the climate crisis.

“Rural America offers an enormous amount of potential to address climate change and is home to a wealth of resources that cannot be overlooked,” she added. “The Rural Green Partnership helps mobilize our region to mitigate risk, increase resilience, incentivize new markets, and create jobs as we work together to defeat the climate crisis.”

The New York Times reported Thursday on a new study by the United Nations warning finding that climate change threatens the global food supply and that “food crises could develop on several continents at once.”

Bustos claimed immediate support from farm, labor, and environmental groups.

“Illinois farmers have a great story to tell,” said Richard Guebert Jr., president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “We’re producing renewable energy on our land — wind, solar, and renewable fuels. And we’re capturing carbon in our soils. We look forward to working with Rep. Bustos and others to find innovative ways to build on what we’re already doing so we can further reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, capture more carbon, and increase clean energy opportunities and economic investment across rural America.” He said IFB members “believe that the best path toward addressing climate-related issues is one that seizes on the opportunity to promote rural economic growth, not one that imposes undo costs on farmers.”

Rodney Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said it would build on what they’re already doing, adding, “We have a track record that proves how precision conservation management, corn-based ethanol, and soil health practices like cover crops can reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture while sequestering carbon emissions from other sources.”

“Rep. Bustos understands the climate crisis and its threat to families in rural America,” said Callie Eideberg of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Her plan empowers farmers and ranchers to access the latest technologies and advance conservation solutions that protect clean air and water. Rural communities will play a pivotal role in putting the country on the path to a 100 percent clean economy by 2050. These are the strong policy priorities, grounded in the best-available science, that we need to meet this ambitious and necessary goal.”

“Climate change is disrupting agriculture, peoples’ lives and communities, and environmental quality across rural America,” added Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “We appreciate Rep. Bustos’s initiatives advancing renewable energy and storage development, energy-efficiency improvements, better soil health and more efficient rural transportation services. All of these are important climate solutions that are good for the rural economy and good for the environment.”

The proposal, which Bustos submitted to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, was also backed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Utility Workers Union of America.

Bustos said she was seeking support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. “I don’t want this to be a partisan plan,” she said. “I want this to be a bipartisan plan that can lead to real answers to our problems.”