My name is Brian Depew. I am the Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs. For over 40 years the Center for Rural Affairs has worked to establish strong rural communities and engage people in the decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of those communities.
I traveled here today from Lyons, Nebraska, a town of 850 people in northeast Nebraska, to offer my support for your agency’s action to address climate change.
Every day our work gives us a seat at the table in small towns across America. This is where we hear the good and the bad, the stories about hope, and triumph, and taking a stand. We hear from the leaders that make our communities strong. And we hear from those who are too busy and working too hard to take credit for any of that.
Stories from people like Matt Russell, a 5th generation farmer from Iowa who feels he is already experiencing the effects of climate change. He’s worried that we won’t be able to meet the needs of a growing population if the agricultural systems we have in place now are no longer viable with a climate that has changed.
Or Harley Buys, a conventional corn grower from Minnesota who decided to buck convention and now farms with carbon sequestration on his mind. He knows it’s his job, as a good steward, to leave the land better than when he started.
Matt and Harley live in the Midwest, a region that includes more than 520,000 farms producing crops valued at $136 billion per year, accounting for 65% of national production of corn and soybeans. If nothing changes, this region will experience yield declines of up to 19% by mid-century and 63% by the end of the century. That puts people like Matt and Harley out of business.
It is not just farmers who are concerned. In Iowa, natural resource administrator Rich Leopold is presented every day with the challenges that climate change poses to Iowa’s infrastructure and natural resource health. We cannot afford to simply adapt to severe flooding and extreme weather.
We don’t claim to speak for everybody, but the relationships we’ve built over the past four decades remind us that stewardship is still strong in rural America.
That’s why in the past few weeks more than 60 community leaders have added their names to a sign-on letter we drafted, including rural leaders from right here in Colorado. The letter will be delivered to senators in Washington. Senators who represent the signers, rural people across the region.
Almost 600 friends of rural America have signed our petition in support of the carbon pollution standards we’re discussing here today.
Farmers, ranchers, people of faith, university professors and extension agents, scientists, tribal leaders, small and local business owners, public administrators, policy advisers, leaders from the nonprofit sector, farmer’s union representatives, local conservation agents, rural community members, hunters, anglers, renewable energy advocates, loggers, artists, conservationists, reporters, students, grandparents, and grandchildren. These are just some of the people who have been attending community conversations in small towns to discuss what climate change means and what we can do about it.
And we’re just getting started.
We hear from tribal leaders in Montana who are worried about losing the higher-elevation plants they depend on for medicine and consumption.
We hear from Scott Denning, a Colorado resident and professor of atmospheric studies who will also be testifying before you. He knows that a changing climate means drought, already a challenge to the small towns and rural communities that are so dependent on this resource.
Farmers and rural people can, and will, adapt. Double-and triple-cropping, seed modification, crop switching, and other adaptive practices are all on the table. Clean energy and efficiency present exciting economic development opportunities. But you can only hear so much from those like Arlyn Schipper, a grain farmer who feels the biggest issue with climate right now is that there is no awareness.
This rule isn’t perfect; it won’t solve all of our problems. But it’s a good step in the right direction. That’s why you will be hearing from rural people from across the country supporting these efforts and asking others to take action. That’s why you will see groups like ours committed to using outreach and education to overcome the misinformation and fear tactics that too often shape this debate.
Fred Abels, an Iowa farmer, says it best: Climate change isn't something we can ignore. Now is the time to face the problem head on.
I thank you for your willingness to do just that.
Testimony of Brian Depew, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs, regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule. Prepared for delivery at EPA Region 8 Hearing, Denver, Colorado, July 29, 2014.