President-elect Barack Obama's picks to head the agriculture and interior departments will provide "two rural-tuned voices to the Cabinet of the most urban president in at least 100 years," write Jim Tankersley and Bettina Boxall for the Los Angeles Times. "The majority of conservationists and rural interest groups say ... Obama has taken a step toward fulfilling his campaign promise of revitalizing rural economies."
The appointment of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has prompted a look back at his record to gain a sense of what changes he may bring to the Department of Agriculture. "On matters of agriculture, Vilsack was a pragmatic centrist, content with incremental changes and reluctant to take steps to significantly disrupt the status quo," writes Chase Martyn of The Iowa Independent.
In his two terms as governor Vilsack worked to endear himself to both the left and right, meaning he tended to stay away from divisive issues such a factory-style hog farms. "Vilsack remained largely above the fray of ongoing feuds over the placement of confined animal feeding operations near rural communities," writes Martyn. "Groups on the left who would like to give local communities stricter control over where the CAFOs are allowed felt betrayed by their governor’s unwillingness to help, but his stance kept agribusiness interests relatively quiet."
In fact, "Vilsack’s most noticeable impact on rural Iowa did not involve changes to agricultural policy or stricter environmental regulations, but rather tax credits and business incentives," adds Martyn. But he favors tighter limits on farm subsidies, as does Obama. "Expect the incoming secretary of agriculture to achieve tangible results that are easy to explain, because that is Vilsack’s style," writes Martyn. "He will immerse himself in a few specific issues, come up with a few policy ideas, and set to work building a political consensus, diluting the original ideas when necessary." (Read more)
Salazar also has a reputation as a centrist. "Salazar is expected to forge compromises with those who have competing interests over mining, drilling on public land and the protection of endangered species," write Karen Crummy and Anne Mulkern in The Denver Post. "While this has bothered some liberal groups, Salazar has received a mostly warm reception by environmentalists and business groups." One of the first challenges Salazar would likely face at the Department of the Interior is the issue of oil shale mining on federal lands. Salazar has opposed what he considered the Bush administration's hasty attempt to allow commercial developers to lease Western lands for shale mining and processing. (Read more)
The department and its Office of Surface Mining will also be involved in discussions about changes in laws or regulations on mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal. Shares of publicly traded U.S. coal firms rose after Obama's announcement, suggesting Salazar is more favorable to coal than the president-elect, analyst Jeremy Sussman of Natixis Bleichroeder told the Reuters news service. "He is practical and not too ideological," Sussman said. "A bill he sponsored on capture and storage of carbon emissions was widely supported." (Read more) UPDATE, 12/19: Big coal operator Massey Energy led a decline in energy stocks, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Being the governor of Iowa does not mean you put forth a rural voice. Check out the biography of Vilsack. Undergrad at Hamilton and living in Mt. Pleasant is not rural to most of us.
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