Vilsack stays mum on Clinton administration post

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporte • Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday remained coy on whether he would accept a position in the next presidential administration if Hillary Clinton wins the election in November.

Vilsack is the only Cabinet secretary to stay in President Obama’s administration for the entirety of his time in office. He has been rumored as a top pick for a Clinton administration post if the Democratic nominee is elected Nov. 8 — specifically as her chief of staff.

“I don’t think anybody should be talking about what jobs are available or what’s going to happen after the election,” Vilsack told attendees at a National Press Club luncheon today in Washington, D.C., after being asked about his interest in a position. “Everyone should be focused on supporting the candidate of their choice and making sure that this is an election that, at the end of the day, people are proud of.”

Vilsack spent the bulk of his time at the luncheon touting the fuels, electricity, chemicals and other products made from plants that are helping revitalize pockets of rural America.

“It’s a tremendous gift that we get every single day from this place called rural America,” said Vilsack. The speech coincided with the release of an Agriculture Department report finding that the bio-based products industry contributed $393 billion and 4.2 million jobs in 2014.

The industry has helped move the rural unemployment rate from over 10 percent to under 6 percent, said Vilsack. It also has stabilized the population in the heartland.

The conversation around bioenergy typically revolves around the federal renewable fuel standard, Vilsack said, referring to the U.S. EPA-run program to boost biofuels blends in the fuel supply through 2022. But the so-called bioeconomy has expanded into other fields, he said. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program, for example, pays farmers to produce alternative energy crops on about 48,000 acres in an effort to encourage production of sustainable biomass.

USDA also has helped fund more than 230 wood-to-energy projects in the western United States, where forest thinning is part of the strategy to reduce fire hazards.

“This is an opportunity for us to create a new industry for the United States,” said Vilsack.

The BioPreferred program, the program to encourage federal agencies to purchase bio-based products, has displaced about 6.8 million barrels of oil, he added.