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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2005

Location: Washington, DC


TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2004

The House in Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union had under consideration the bill (H.R. 4766) making appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2005, and for other purposes:

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Fiscal Year 2005 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The bill includes several projects that will benefit my district.

Imperial County in my Southern California district is a desert farming community located on the California-Mexico border. The county is one of the top agricultural counties in California. It produced over $1.2 billion of agricultural products in 2002. The county is a leading producer of agronomic and winter vegetable crops, as well as livestock.
This bill contains language that directs the Under Secretary for Rural Development to give consideration to projects that would directly benefit my constituents:

The Imperial Valley Sugarcane/Renewable Energy/Ethanol Project-Environmental and water conservation issues are of grave concern to the agricultural producers in my district. Alternative, higher-value commodities must become available to ensure the best economic and environmental use of the land and water. This rural development project could provide such an alternative to many of our farmers while producing sugar, ethanol, and renewable energy. My constituents are pursuing an economic development project to develop sugarcane production and processing capabilities, along with ethanol and renewable energy production, in the Imperial Valley. The number one crop in the Imperial Valley is alfalfa, which has a much lower dollar value than sugarcane. Due to a rural-to-urban water transfer that has reduced the number of acres that may be planted in the Valley, my rural constituents searched for an alternative to alfalfa-and found it in sugarcane. The economic conversion project includes development of sugarcane acreage in the Valley, as well as construction of a new sugarcane processing facility on the site of an existing sugar beet processing facility in the Valley. The current sugar beet facility, which currently only operates four months of the year, employs approximately 300 people (100 full-time and 200 seasonal employees). Opening the new sugarcane processing facility would allow year-round processing at the site, dramatically increasing the number of full-time job opportunities at the facility. The project would also allow the creation of a power plant reliant on renewable fuels, principally from residue from the production and processing of sugarcane. Further, the project includes plans for ethanol production from the sugarcane. Due to California's phase-out of MTBE as a gasoline oxygenate, the state requires a stable supply of ethanol, and a local supply will dramatically reduce transportation costs for ethanol purchasers. Sugarcane-to-ethanol production in the Imperial Valley will greatly benefit the economic well-being of my constituents-as well as reduce renewable and clean fuel costs for the nation while protecting environmental quality.

Environmental Technology Business Park-The County of Imperial is working to catalyze development of an EcoPark for location of renewable energy and "green technology" industrial projects. An investment in this project would leverage funding already allocated for development of biomass-to-ethanol projects in Imperial County over the past three years by local, state and federal agencies. The EcoPark is expected to attract more than $400 million in private investment and sustain more than 4,000 jobs in the related industry and agricultural sectors. Further, a variety of new and established firms are interested in bringing additional technologies to the EcoPark, such as methane digesters, minibiorefineries for biodiesel, nutraceutical manufacture, liquid natural gas production, and solar power generation. The EcoPark will be a beacon of economic and environmental development for renewable fuels projects.

Desert Farming Institute and The National Center for the Study of International Trade in Agriculture-My constituents are interested in establishing a "California Desert Farming Institute" at the San Diego State University's Imperial Valley campus. The Imperial Valley of California is one of the most successful examples of desert farming in the world. San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, a Hispanic-Serving Institution, is located on the border with Mexico and thus a logical site for a Center charged with studying the international aspects of agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated the campus as a "National Center of Excellence." The Institute's primary mission would be to compile, analyze, and disseminate information on desert farming and its commercial viability; to study the environmental and health issues related to desert farming; to compile, analyze, and disseminate information on international trade in agriculture, including trends in agricultural production around the world; and to form collaborative research partnerships with other institutions around the world to encourage research in the development of desert farming. A significant part of the world, including major parts of the United States, is desert land with little productivity. However, the application of state-of-the-art technology to farming and the development of modern agriculture have made desert farming a viable and, in some cases, a necessary activity. Any major expansion of desert farming could have a significant and positive effect on the global competitiveness of the American farmer, as well as positive impacts throughout arid regions of the world.

Neighborhood House of Calexico Youth Center-Throughout the past 66 years of its service, Neighborhood House of Calexico has targeted low-income families in the community, serving an average of 7,000 low-income persons per year. The Neighborhood House provides services such as day care, youth violence prevention, micro-business development, and shelter for homeless and abused women and children. The Neighborhood House Youth Center has been successful in interacting with at-risk youth, in diverting gang activities and helping youth obtain job skills, conflict resolution skills, increased level of interaction between adult role models and youth, and recreational activities. The City of Calexico is experiencing a significant increase in gang activity and potential for intensification with the downturn of availability of jobs, a 22 percent unemployment rate, and reduced level of training opportunity for youth and adults. Funding for this project would provide youth mentoring, assist youth in obtaining job training, and creating youth employment opportunities.

Calexico Telemedicine Center-Calexico, California is a very poor community located in rural Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border. Unfortunately, this community does not have a hospital. Pioneers Memorial Hospital and the Heffernan Memorial Hospital District, the two major healthcare providers located in other cities in the county, have partnered to open an urgent-care center in the vacant Calexico Hospital building, which could be wired for telemedicine. Locally, this project has the support of all the stakeholders, government leaders, health boards, and businesses. Funding for this project would provide for the equipment needed to start a telemedicine center. Imperial County has a low number of medical professionals, and the residents of the city of Calexico are especially medically underserved. Telemedicine will allow patients to have appropriate medical treatment without having to travel across the county, or to other counties, states, or even countries, for service.

This bill also contains language to uphold funding for the Agricultural Research Station in my district. The Brawley Research Station performs crucial research work under the arid saline conditions of the Imperial Valley in support of U.S. agriculture in desert and arid environments. For example, crop salinity trials are conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Salinity Lab based in Riverside, California. The salinity work done at Brawley could not effectively be performed at Riverside because smog negates the scientific validity of the findings. Such research has worldwide application as saline soils are a constant challenge to farming practices in many regions. Further, the station is strategically located to provide quick response support to biosecurity and agroterrorism detection work. It is situated less than 90 miles from six border crossings, one of which is the busiest passenger crossing in the world. The constant supply of host crops and high international traffic puts Imperial County on the front line of protection of the American food supply from foreign introduction of diseases, insects, and many invasive species. The Brawley Field Station currently headquarters research facilities and personnel from USDA and the California Department of Food & Agriculture, which can quickly implement control and eradication programs in coordination with local authorities-thereby making use of the best capabilities of local, state, and federal agencies.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill, and these important agricultural and rural development projects.

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