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White House Forms Council to Focus on Rural America

August 24, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - President Obama's establishment of a White House Rural Council could be good news for Indiana's small towns, which are home to almost 30 percent of the state's population.

The new council, which is to examine issues beyond America's big cities, will look for ways to maximize the impact of federal investments, to promote economic prosperity and quality of life for rural residents.

Dr. Carolyn Orr, an agriculture policy analyst with the Indiana Rural Caucus of Legislators, explains the council's mission.

"The goal is to provide a 'go-to' person in every cabinet agency that does care about rural, does look at things from a rural viewpoint, and works with the other cabinet agencies."

Many small towns need big infrastructure improvements such as water, sewers and roads, Orr says - but they're struggling.

"Because of lower populations, lower tax income, they don't have the money to update them the way Indianapolis might."

In some cases, she says, federal agencies have worked at cross purposes. For instance, the Department of Agriculture may be trying to help a town get a new sewer system while the Environmental Protection Agency is suing the town for not having sewers which meet current standards.

"So, instead of the USDA trying to help and the EPA trying to hit them with a stick, the rural council is trying to bring those two groups together, so that the USDA and the EPA will go together. The EPA can say, 'This is what's wrong,' and the USDA says, 'OK, this is how we can fix it.' "

Sometimes, Orr says, legislation is enacted that fails to take into account the differences between rural and urban areas or that has unintended consequences for rural citizens. It's the goal of the council to identify those circumstances before the proposals become law.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN