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Vilsack as ag secretary, Salazar for interior praised

Former Iowa Gov. Thomas Vilsack was named Wednesday as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of agriculture.

As head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vilsack is expected to carry Obama's campaign pledge to cut commodity subsidies to wealthy farmers and non-farmers.

"I congratulate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack on his nomination for secretary of agriculture," U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said Wednesday.

"Gov. Vilsack is a strong advocate who understands the changing landscape of our nation's rural economy," said Peterson, DFL-7th District, himself a candidate for the post but which he publicly said he didn't desire.

"I look forward to working with him and President-elect Obama in advancing food, conservation and energy policies that are in the best interest of American agriculture and the American people," Peterson said.

Obama at the same time announced his selection to head the Interior Department as Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is under the Interior Department.

"It's time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that's committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families," Obama said. "That is the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack."

Vilsack spoke of his commitment to "promote American leadership in response to global climate change," and declared his intent to "place nutrition at the center of all food programs administered by the department."

Vilsack will oversee implementation of a new $290 billion five-year federal farm bill -- a bill that is criticized most for aid it gives to farmers but of which more than two-thirds is used to fund nutrition programs such as food stamps.

The former Iowa governor tested the Democratic presidential waters early, but didn't stay long. While governing an ag state, he didn't focus much on agricultural issues as governor, but did provide leadership in technology, ethanol and other rural issues.

"As the former governor from our neighboring state of Iowa, Gov. Vilsack understands the unique agricultural and livestock issues that face our working farmers and ranchers," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

"His leadership on developing the next generation of renewable fuels can help create jobs while reducing our dependence on foreign oil," she said. "I am hopeful that his Midwestern values and background will be a strong voice to ensure that American agriculture continues to provide a safe, abundant food supply and sources of renewable energy."

Farm group reaction to Vilsack's designation also focused on his work on renewable fuels.

"During his tenure as Iowa's governor, one of the nation's top agriculture-producing states, Gov. Vilsack was an ardent supporter of furthering the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and wind, as well as an advocate for biotechnology," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

"He has been a strong proponent of international trade and expanding our export markets. His understanding and experience with many of the pressing issues facing agriculture today will serve him well in his new position," Stallman said.

Stallman called Interior Secretary-designee Salazar "also uniquely qualified and experienced to serve as secretary of the Interior. He serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has been a strong proponent of expanding the development of renewable fuels.

"He is a recipient of the Friend of Farm Bureau award for his many pro-agriculture efforts and his life-long experience as a farmer will serve him well in addressing the concerns of agriculture,": Stallman added.

Klobuchar called Salazar a fifth-generation Coloradan whose family has ranched and farmed for more than a century.

"Ken understands the land and natural resource issues that are vital to protecting the environment and securing our energy future," she said. "His leadership and pragmatism, particularly on energy issues, will be missed in the Senate but I look forward to continuing working with him in the months and years to come."

Vilsack will replace another Minnesota neighbor -- former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, who was a recent appointment by President George W. Bush as ag secretary.

"With his opportunity to build on the accomplishments of USDA during the Bush administration, Tom Vilsack would lead a department that has made great strides in strengthening our agricultural economy, expanding conservation, leading biofuels development, securing our food supply, improving nutrition, and increasing markets for American agriculture worldwide," Schafer said.