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Administrator Johnson, South Dakota Corn Growers 20th Anniversary, Sioux Falls, SD

    Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I appreciate that warm reception, especially since it’s not that warm outside.

    I am pleased to have Robbie Roberts, EPA’s Regional Administrator for this area, and Jon Scholl, my agriculture advisor, joining me.

    When my wife asked me where I would be traveling on the first weekend of the new year, I told her, “South Dakota.” She said that it must important if you are going there in January.

    And it is good to be here with you as you celebrate South Dakota Corn Growers 20th Anniversary. In a couple weeks, EPA will be celebrating our 35 year anniversary – so your anniversary is helping me get into a festive mood.

    On the flight here today, I was reading through some of the briefing papers my staff prepared for me and I came across something called the “world’s only Corn Palace” in Mitchell, South Dakota. I’m sure you know this, but apparently the wall panels of the Corn Palace are decorated with locally grown corn as tribute to the agricultural heritage of the state. Well, I always knew that corn was a big part of South Dakota’s identity, but to build an entire palace to corn … you guys must like corn a lot.

    Farming is not only important to the South Dakota economy – it is vital to our national economy. The more vibrant the farm economy is, the more vibrant our national economy will be.

    I know that you contribute greatly to the welfare of your state, and the entire nation. South Dakota corn growers put food on our dinner tables, create jobs, and increasingly, gas up our cars.

    Last August, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act. Prior to that, more than a decade had passed since we had a national energy plan … and with each passing year we have become more dependent on foreign sources of oil.

    Over the last 25 years, the cumulative cost of imported crude oil has reached $1.4 trillion … some of which could have provided funds for investment and jobs right here in America.

    I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the Renewable Fuels Standard provision in the President’s Energy Bill. That provision is designed to reduce vehicle emissions and strengthen the nation’s energy security by doubling the use of fuels produced from American crops by 2012.

    That means turning a lot more corn into fuel – the fuel that gets us to work, transports goods across the country, and takes our children and grandchildren to school.

    The RFS provision requires an escalating amount of renewable fuels to be blended into motor vehicle fuels. So instead of spending our money on imported oil, we can invest in domestic jobs, strengthen our national security, and support American agricultural communities.

    In addition to the economic impact, expanding the use of renewable fuels can help us provide cleaner air to the next generation of Americans by displacing the use of fossil fuels that would otherwise be consumed.

    Under the RFS, the Environmental Protection Agency has been charged with designing and implementing the Renewable Fuels Standard Program that meets the ambitious levels of production set forth in the Energy Bill.

    By 2012, the new standard will require 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel to be used in the nations fuel supply.

    I don’t really know what 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol looks like, but I do know it will require a lot of corn.

    The President is counting on a lot of that corn to come from South Dakota corn growers … and after seeing the enthusiasm of the members of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, I know I can go back to Washington and ensure the President that we are in good hands.

    In order to get the program up and running, last month I signed the RFS regulation. This provision that requires nearly 3 percent of all gasoline sold to U.S. motorists throughout 2006 to be renewable fuel.

    While we were able to come up with a simple approach to implement the default standard for 2006, EPA plans to proceed with a comprehensive RFS rulemaking for 2007 and beyond. This rulemaking will involve designing a credit generation and trading system, reporting requirements and the mechanisms for ensuring compliance.

    In the meantime, EPA has been meeting with stakeholders in the process. We have had a number of successful meetings with representatives of the oil and renewable fuels industries and we will continue this dialogue as we develop the RFS rule.

    EPA recognizes the important role that you, the agricultural community, play in ensuring that sufficient supplies of ethanol and biodiesel will exist. We look forward to hearing your ideas – particularly in areas of new, more efficient technologies for the production of ethanol made from corn husks.

    Under President Bush’s leadership, we are addressing our nation’s growing energy demand in a way that supports our goals for a clean environmental and a healthy economy.

    Of all people, corn growers know that if you don’t have healthy land, you don’t yield healthy corn. And without healthy corn, we don’t have a healthy economy.

    The President knows this too … so when he asked me to become Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he charged me with accelerating the health of our nation’s environment while protecting the health of our economy.

    The old way of thinking would have us believe that you must choose between protecting the environment and promoting economic growth. Corn growers have shown this is just not true. Not only can the environment and the economy progress together, we can leverage our environmental actions to create economic growth opportunities – just as we are doing with the Renewable Fuels Standard.

    Instead of being viewed by some as a source of conflict, today EPA is proud to be a source of cooperation. We have learned that when acting alone, mandating rules and regulations, our progress is incremental. When we work in cooperation with our partners – including the agriculture community – we can build on the environmental gains we have already achieved.

    As Administrator, I want EPA to collaborate with our partners to understand the practical implications of our actions … I want EPA to be a part of a constructive problem-solving strategy that will reach our collective economic and environmental objectives.

    The culture of environmental stewardship has been an integral part of farm families for generations. EPA would like to build on your history of caring for the land to find innovative ways to address our shared challenges. I know that by working together, we can develop solutions that are both economically reasonable and that preserve our shared environment.

    We see the Animal Feeding Operations Consent Agreement as a step with the right direction. By working hand-in-hand with livestock producers, more than 2,700 firms, representing over 7,000 farms animal feeding operations, have signed agreements for EPA's air compliance initiative.

    As the former head of the Agency’s Pesticide Program, I am very familiar with our partnerships with the agriculture community – particularly our partnerships to develop a voluntary program that to reduce the health and environmental risks associated with pesticide use and implement pollution prevention strategies.

    However, none of these partnerships will thrive without being based on sound science.

    As the first EPA Administrator with a scientific background, I know that sound scientific research and analysis is the basis of our achievements and the genesis of our future successes.

    Agriculture is the producer of solutions, not the creator of problems. And as Administrator, I want to involve the agriculture community in making the decision that directly affects their very livelihoods.

    We all agree that our farmland is one of our nation’s greatest national treasures. We have an obligation to pass the land down to the next generation enhanced and not depleted. By working together, EPA and the agriculture community can ensure the continued use and conservation of this natural resource.

    Now as we finish this great meal, I would like to congratulate the South Dakota Corn Growers for 20 years of successfully powering our bodies, our economy … and now our cars. The American people thank you for your hard work.

    Thank you and I hope you have a great celebration.