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Clean energy makes for good rural politics

By Roger Johnson

One of the largest transformations in the U.S. is the growth of clean energy jobs in Rural America. There are now more clean energy jobs than fossil fuel jobs in 41 out of the 50 states. The two fastest growing occupations in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians. They join the thousands of farmers and plant workers producing homegrown biofuels in providing economic growth and high-quality jobs throughout Rural America.

As president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), I have witnessed policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions such as the Production Tax Credit, the Investment Tax Credit, and the Renewable Fuel Standard revitalize rural communities. Last year, I joined the Advisory Board of New Energy America to highlight the jobs created by smart policies that support the clean energy economy. Increasingly, these policies form the backbone of a rural economic agenda that is creating jobs in Rural America.

In 2006, the last midterm election with a GOP president, the Democratic Party campaigned for Congressional seats in rural districts by highlighting clean energy policies. Their focus on renewable fuels and innovative technologies like wind and solar worked. Democrats took back the House and the Senate with new rural votes. The next year, they expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard that has driven economic activity in the heartland. Two years later, Democrats expanded their majorities by running on a platform that included robust support for wind and solar. Clean energy was an effective rural message in 2006 and 2008. And it will be an even stronger message this time around.

New Energy America recently highlighted a clean energy strategy for Rural America in 2018. We show how clean energy jobs are impacting Rural America. Iowa, for example, already gets 37 percent of its power from wind. As Iowa's Republican Governor Kim Reynolds pointed out last year: "In Texas, South Dakota, and Idaho, wind power makes up anywhere from 12 to 30 percent of electricity generated. Industry data shows these Republican-led states have added more than 36,000 jobs in wind (and solar) and more than $45 billion in economic activity." And that activity hits close to home. As Reynolds notes, "More than two-thirds of the United States' wind energy is produced in states that voted for Trump." Reynolds is certainly no wild-eyed liberal. She just gets what clean energy does for her voters.

The report also notes public opinion research that shows Americans overwhelmingly want more clean energy. Expanding wind power is supported by 89 percent of Americans, with 82 percent supporting the expansion of solar power, and 82 percent of Americans support federal funding for renewable energy research. A study based on an NFU poll shows that 70 percent of rural voters are more likely to support a pro-Renewable Fuel Standard candidate by a two-to-one margin. Rural Americans want these policies because they know the future of our rural economy will depend in large part on growing this industry.

There is no reason for candidates to be shy about a clean energy in rural states. Members of the NFU are well aware of the role we play in creating homegrown biofuels that reduce emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. Wind energy is creating new opportunities for farmers and our neighbors who work in construction. And we've seen solar projects of all sizes power our farms and put our children and relatives to work.

While some in Washington rush to embrace coal and big oil, heartland voters know our future is with biofuels, wind, and solar. These voters will not be kind if programs like the ITC or PTC are scaled back, or if the RFS is weakened to appease private equity-owned refiners on the East Coast. We're watching and will hold the politicians accountable.

America's farmers are proud to provide the food that feeds our country. Our communities are proud to provide the energy that powers our homes and vehicles-energy that helps keep the land, water, and air clean and helps us fight climate change that threatens our productivity.

America's rural communities are proud to be part of America's clean energy future.

Roger Johnson is president of the National Farmers Union (www.nfu.org), a grassroots organization that represents nearly 200,000 family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and rural communities across the U.S. This column was first published in the Quad Cities Times, based in Davenport, Iowa.