As someone who was born and raised on a ranch in Colorado, I know firsthand that rural communities are home to some of the most hard-working and self-reliant Americans. I also know that the struggles facing these families are not unlike those confronting Americans across the country: we want our children to receive a world-class education; we want access to quality and affordable health care; we want job opportunities and vibrant local economies; and we want to leave a stronger America for our children and grandchildren to inherit.
That’s why I’m proud to serve on President Obama’s White House Rural Council where we are focusing our resources across the administration to improve the lives of rural Americans. Here are a just a few things we’re doing at Interior on that front:
OUTDOOR RECREATION AND TOURISM: Interior and its public lands support $363 billion in economic activity and 2.2 million jobs annually in the United States. Many of America’s greatest natural, cultural and historic treasures, managed by Interior, attract international and domestic tourists to rural areas. We proudly partner with rural communities because the recreational opportunities provided by these natural assets are tremendous engines for economic growth and job creation for all Americans.
INVESTMENTS IN VITAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES: As the economy continues to gain strength, many local communities still face challenges in funding essential services, such as police, fire protection and emergency response programs. As part of the Administration’s commitment to supporting localities that face these hurdles, today I was pleased to announce that we are investing nearly $400 million through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program in local governments, largely in rural America. These funds will help more than 1,850 communities make critical investments in important community services such as, public schools, roads, and water systems.
ENERGY: Under the President’s leadership, the United States is experiencing a historic escalation of renewable, clean energy development that is benefitting our economy, our environment and rural communities. In 2010 alone, Interior permitted nearly 4,000 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects on public lands, supporting the creation of over 7,000 jobs and multi-billion dollar investments in rural America. Even more projects were added over the last year.
WATER: Water is the lifeblood of any community, and Interior is a major supplier to rural communities in the West. The Obama Administration has provided nearly 9 million rural residents with access to a safe water supply and sanitary water system and over 3.7 million rural residents with access to new or improved systems that will deliver safe, clean drinking water.
CONSERVATION: In 2010, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a conservation and outdoor recreation strategy for the 21st century built on partnerships with communities across the country. From the Flint Hills of Kansas to the Dakota Grasslands to the Crown of the Continent in Montana, we’re working hand in hand with farmers, ranchers, and other landowners to conserve these critical habitats and preserve a way of life that supports the local economy.
As we embark upon year two of the White House Rural Council, I look forward to working with the President, my colleagues, and rural communities across the nation to continue this great march of progress.
Ken Salazar is the Secretary of the Department of Interior