WASHINGTON - At the first Senate Agriculture Committee hearing to examine the upcoming 2023 farm bill, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the importance of investments in biofuel infrastructure and broadband expansion for rural communities. This is the first of many hearings that the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold on the 2023 Farm Bill. This hearing focused on rural development and energy issues; future hearings will focus on topics including conservation, nutrition, commodities, and forestry.
Klobuchar underscored how biofuels benefit the economy and consumers alike: “It's clear that biofuels and biobased products are key toward…lowering gas prices, driving economic growth, and creating real jobs.”
Klobuchar also highlighted how expanding access to rural broadband will enable farmers to utilize precision agriculture technologies: “As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I've focused on connecting rural areas with infrastructure…and putting resources into broadband.”
Klobuchar has long been a strong advocate for investing in biofuel infrastructure, increasing American biofuel production, and upholding the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Provisions from her bipartisan legislation with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to create a renewable fuel infrastructure grant program and streamline regulatory requirements to help fuel retailers sell higher blends of ethanol were signed into law in August.
In July, Klobuchar and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) led a bipartisan group of 22 colleagues in urging the Biden administration to increase biodiesel volumes to moderate fuel prices and benefit the economy and environment.
In April, Klobuchar led a bipartisan group of colleagues in pushing the Biden administration to expand American biofuel availability.
In March, she and Ernst introduced the Home Front Energy Independence Act, bipartisan legislation to expand the availability and production of American biofuel, following President Biden’s ban on importing Russian oil.
As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has led efforts to expand broadband access, support rural broadband, and bridge the digital divide. Her legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to expand high-speed internet nationwide served as the basis for major broadband funding included in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act.
In May, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to strengthen broadband access for rural communities. The Rural Broadband Protection Act will ensure that providers applying for federal funding can reliably deliver broadband to underserved, rural communities.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: It's clear that biofuels and biobased products are key pathways toward decarbonizing our economy while lowering gas prices, driving economic growth, and creating real jobs. Senator Ernst and I have worked together on the Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Investment and Market Expansion Act for biofuel infrastructure grants that were recently passed into law. We're excited about that. Under Secretary, how can investments in biofuel infrastructure help farmers and rural communities and can you just give a brief update on the implementation of these programs?
HONORABLE XOCHITL TORRES SMALL: Thank you so much for your interest in biofuels, and I'm eager to support that; I was actually in your state in Minnesota talking with someone who – I was talking to him as the mayor. But he’s also a farmer, and he was also a banker. And he talked about how being a farmer, the biofuels industry was crucial to him; being a banker, he saw it as a resilient – an opportunity to strengthen all economic development and investments in his community, and then being a mayor added to his bottom line and tax base because there was recently a biorefinery that located near him. His daughter is going to be staying in their small town because she got a great job at that bio refinery. That's an example of the type of opportunity that exists when you expand more and better markets. So when we talk about the opportunities here, of course, we're very excited about IRA and the expansion of HBIP, which makes sure that we have advanced biofuels the ability to distribute higher blends biofuels all across the country, in the places sometimes rural don't have that type of infrastructure to distribute it and get it in your car. In addition, we're excited about increased investments in bio buffer products because we know that part of building a bio-based economy is limiting the waste and turning that waste into another product, whether it's chemicals or advanced biofuels, or foam for car seats.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Okay, very good. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I've focused on connecting rural areas, as you're well aware, with infrastructure, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we put many resources into broadband. Can you talk about the additional resources for broadband programs at USDA and what recommendations do you have for Congress as we go forward with this Farm Bill, with anything more we should be doing on broadband, I know a portion of this money, of course, goes to the USDA?
HONORABLE XOCHITL TORRES SMALL: Absolutely. So USDA has $2 billion of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. A point of pride for me is that USDA Rural Development was the first entity to actually award funds for high-speed internet infrastructure. So there are projects that are operating that are running now through the bipartisan infrastructure law that will be providing fiber to homes. Part of the reason why there is that success is because we have incredible field-based staff, or general field representatives, who are working in community to help develop proposals and frankly, the decision to make sure that the current investments in high-speed internet are both grant and loan to be able to make sure that we're funding projects and stretching funds as far as possible to reach the hardest to reach places. We're also investing through things like distance learning and telemedicine to making sure that once communities have high-speed internet, they also have the tools to use it well.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: You know, one thing I'd also add to that, and we've done work on this on this committee, is precision agriculture and Senator Wicker and I have been working on this; how can – that is part of this as well as you know, more and more farmers are using and will use even more advanced equipment, and it helps with everything from droughts on and water conservation and other access. Could you talk about how important that is and why we need broadband for that?
HONORABLE XOCHITL TORRES SMALL: We were 100 up 100 down, and I had a farmer in Virginia thank us for that build out speed because the upload for precision agriculture is crucial. So as we invest in precision ag, making sure that the build-out speed is high enough to support it is fundamental to survival for our farmers.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. I'll ask questions on the record on Rural Electric Co-Ops and other other good topics. So thank you.