Missed opportunity for Biden’s climate push during Ohio visit

Pres. Joe Biden’s visit to Ohio for a televised town hall in July drew the usual cheers and jeers from all ends of the political spectrum. While the debate over the president’s infrastructure package won top billing, viewers also heard plenty about vaccination rates, inflation, and a host of other issues. One topic that deserved far more attention than it got was climate change — and new opportunities to support green jobs in states like Ohio.

Partly, that’s because the D.C. political crowd tends to assume we care far more about heavy industry than clean energy, but the truth is that Ohio has long been a hub of energy innovation, from a burgeoning solar industry to a thriving wind sector in the northwest. We’re also home to seven rural manufacturing plants for low-carbon ethanol, putting Ohio among the nation’s top states for biofuel production. The battle against climate change is particularly important to southwest Ohio farmers in areas like Preble, Hamilton and Butler counties, where we are blessed with some of the most fertile and productive cropland in the world.

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My own certified organic farm is one of many across the region that has embraced agriculture techniques proven to conserve resources, sequester carbon, and harness more renewable energy from every acre. With wise decisions from Washington, we could do even more.

That’s why many Ohio farmers welcomed the Biden-Harris administration’s vow to “honor the critical role the renewable fuel industry plays in supporting the rural economy and the leadership role American agriculture will play in our fight against climate change.” It’s a sentiment I’ve seen far and wide as Vice Chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Minority Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee. Unfortunately, that promise has come under new threats, with oil refiners and other fossil fuel companies waging misinformation campaigns designed to undermine this administration’s commitment to clean energy.

Groups like the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) are demanding the White House roll back the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The tactics — threating to kill jobs or raise energy prices — are the same we’ve seen deployed against the administration’s Clean Energy Standard, similar to Ohio’s long-standing alternative energy portfolio standard. But history has shown that policies like the RFS have actually saved drivers about 22 cents per gallon, while slashing carbon emissions by 544 million metric tons — hardly a surprise, given that renewable fuels made from local crops are replacing expensive fossil fuel imports. That’s a path we can and should follow with performance-based standards to clean up the entire economy, harnessing clean electricity, carbon capture, efficiency and the full range of other solutions.

Equally important, boosting competition with a wide portfolio of clean energy sources means that we’re creating green jobs — not just in places like California, but across all 50 states. The truth is that every region of America is blessed with different renewable resources. With smart policies, we can harness that energy to create a new generation of opportunities for America’s blue-collar workers, underserved communities, and farmers alike. It’s a vision that Pres. Biden should not hesitate to discuss the next time he visits Ohio, especially in rural areas where farmers are ready to take advantage of new opportunities in a low-carbon economy.

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So far, the White House has been largely silent about AFPM’s attacks, which has fueled rumors that the administration could back off on its commitment to rigorously support clean energy and rural America. That would be a shocking outcome, given the president’s firm commitments on the campaign trail. To keep the green jobs pipeline flowing, it’s vital that policymakers send a consistent signal to investors that opportunities for clean energy will continue to grow. That includes those of us making planting decisions for the year ahead, but it’s just as important for the kind of jobs a net-zero economy can deliver coast to coast.

~Bill Miller is the owner of a certified organic farm in Preble County, Board Member of the Carbon-50 project, Vice Chair of the USDA’s Minority Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee, & Vice President of the Ohio Farmers Union