Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on a conference call Thursday that he is continuing to press the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The secretary said he was set up to meet Thursday with people involved with USDA's trade advisory group to educate them on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and then talk to more lawmakers about the trade deal.
"And I'm going to the Hill today to speak with members of Congress who in the past have been supportive generally of trade, or may be supportive," Vilsack said. "I'm also making calls to individual members to make sure they know that I can act as a person they can contact if they have questions or concerns as it relates to agriculture."
The more lawmakers are educated on the benefits and the impacts, particularly in rural areas, the more supportive they are going to be, Vilsack said.
"Right now there's obviously some series of questions because the actual text has not be made available," he said.
Vilsack was asked the question by a radio reporter who noted that most presidential candidates so far oppose the deal. The secretary said his job was to focus on moving the trade deal through the process.
"The consequences of not getting it done are significant, especially in terms of America's leadership role in that part of the world, in particularly as it relates to balancing the Chinese influence and encouraging other countries who want to join TPP to consider higher standards rather than the lowest-common denominator," Vilsack said.
The secretary said he expects the text of the trade deal "to be coming very, very soon."
Rural Power Funds
USDA announced $2.3 million in loans on Thursday to help upgrade electric infrastructure in 31 states.
Vilsack made a point of announcing the loans early Thursday. He said the loans will be divvied up by 77 utilities and rural cooperatives.
"The department of agriculture has been aggressively pursuing infrastructure to improve the quality of life in rural America," Vilsack said. "Nothing (is) more important than the reliability of electric service in rural parts of the country."
Vilsack the loans would pay for 12,000 miles of new transmission lines, upgrades in smart-grid technology, renewable-energy and efficiency improvements, as well as repairing damaged lines from natural disasters.
The secretary pointed out USDA has approved $34 billion in rural development loans since 2009, including nearly $1 billion in smart-grid technology. Smart-grid technology allows rural electric cooperatives to better work of coordinating and managing power, the secretary said. Smart-grid tools allow utilities to manage the peaks and valleys of electric use, he said.
"The results are that 8.5 million people living in rural America will have more reliable, safer and over time, more affordable energy," Vilsack said.
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