I was out west recently, and during my return flight, I gazed over the dry earth below. Clearly the lack of rainfall has made much of the rest of the country look like the desert area I visited. This is the time of year when we celebrate agriculture at our many county fairs, and the drought has been felt severely in much of Ohio. Governor Kasich announced that he'd be seeking relief funds for the many farmers in dire straits.

My experience at the county fairs I've attended has been very pleasant, other than the stifling heat. I encountered many young people who have invested enormous time and effort into their 4-H projects. They have raised livestock, and the many hours dedicated to that proposition are invested in the hope that they will pay off at the auction. This isn't always the case, but the many lessons learned in the process prepare these young leaders for successful careers.

During my trips to the fairs throughout southeast Ohio, a common refrain I've often heard is the request that I "stand up for coal." I am doing so. I recently testified at the Ohio University Eastern Branch in Belmont County at a congressional subcommittee hearing hosted by Congressman Jim Jordan. My testimony related the tremendous costs being borne by the producers, the number of new regulations being imposed to stop both the mining of coal and its eventual use by utility companies. The effect has been devastating on jobs in the industry and on the communities that count on the 11 additional jobs each coal job supports.

After the subcommittee hearing, I spoke at a rally for coal in St. Clairsville. The palpable concern expressed by the coal miners is justified; the industry is being slowly suffocated. We need coal as a viable source of reasonably priced energy that can compete with natural gas. These are our two main sources of energy, and they are the key to our goal of energy independence. I am doing everything I can to fight back, as the effects of this war are being felt by employers like Ormet. Ormet is the largest electricity user in the state of Ohio, and surging electric rates could devastate Ormet, along with many other employers. We need to keep those costs in check, so that Ohio can succeed.

The other theme at the fairs is that of what the oil and gas boom means to land owners. At the Belmont County Farm Bureau Dinner last week, I asked a couple of fellow Farm Bureau members if the windfall being received by property owners would have a positive or negative effect on the number of farmers. The conclusion was that it would have a very positive effect in enabling more farmers to remain on their land, to retire debt, and to invest in new machinery. I concur that this seems to be the trend, and a very positive one.

There is tremendous uncertainty at the direction in which our country is headed. Many seem to agree a course correction is needed. While we celebrate the many contributions of farmers to our lives and livelihoods, we also know that many have struggled to survive. We need more young people to take the plunge into farming, and we need to support those that have. America is a world leader in agricultural production, and I'm proud to represent so many vital counties that contribute to that reputation.


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