WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed his number one priority in the Senate: serving the people of South Dakota. Thune discussed the importance of passing the National Defense Authorization Act, which will authorize the full annual funding request for development of the B-21 bomber, his effort to help Sioux Falls become one of the most rural 5G-enabled cities in the country, and other wins for the people of South Dakota. Thune also discussed his continued effort to strengthen the agriculture economy for our farmers and ranchers in South Dakota.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, we’re wrapping up the year here in the Senate, and I’m looking forward to getting home to Sioux Falls for Christmas.
“Before we leave, we’ll wrap up this year’s spending bills, including the defense funding bill.
“Yesterday, we passed the National Defense Authorization Act, yearly legislation to authorize funding for our military and our national defense.
“I’m pleased to report that this year’s bill authorizes the full annual funding request for development of the B-21 bomber, which will be coming to Ellsworth in the not-too-distant future.
“The news that Ellsworth Air Force Base had been selected as the first home of the future B-21 Raider was exciting news this year.
“Ellsworth has been a priority of mine since I first came to the Senate and worked with a lot of dedicated people to prevent Ellsworth from being closed by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005.
“Since then, I’ve worked with the other members of the South Dakota delegation and Air Force and community leaders to make sure the base never again finds itself in the same position.
“Among other things, our efforts resulted in the expansion of the Powder River Training Complex into the largest training air space in the continental United States.
“And it’s undoubtedly partly thanks to this air space that Ellsworth was chosen as the first home for the B-21.
“Ellsworth is going from strength to strength, and I’m honored to advocate for our national security and the airmen at Ellsworth in the Senate.
“Mr. President, agriculture is the lifeblood of our economy in South Dakota, and our farmers and ranchers are always at the top of my priority list here in the Senate.
“Thanks to natural disasters, protracted trade disputes, and several years of low commodity prices, farmers and ranchers have had a tough few years.
“This spring, farmers throughout the Midwest were hit with heavy rainfall and flooding.
“By the time the soil finally dried out enough for planting, it was too late for many farmers to plant their normal crops, and many had to turn to quick-growing cover crops that could be used for feed and grazing and to protect the soil.
“But farmers in South Dakota and other northern states faced a problem.
“The Department of Agriculture had set November 1 as the first date on which farmers could harvest these cover crops for feed or use them for pasture without having their crop insurance indemnity reduced.
“Farmers who hayed or grazed before this date faced a reduction in their prevent plant indemnity payments – crop insurance to help them cover their income loss when fields can’t be planted due to flooding or other issues.
“While November 1 is a reasonable date for farmers in southern states, for farmers in northern states like South Dakota, November 1 is too late for harvesting thanks to killing frost and the risk of late fall and early winter storms.
“And it is too late to maximize the use of cover crops for pasture, since a killing frost is liable to flatten cover crops before they are grazed.
“So beginning in early May, I started pressing the Department of Agriculture to change the November 1 date.
“And in June, the Department of Agriculture announced that it would move up the November 1 date for 2019 by two months, to September 1 – a significant amount of time that allowed South Dakota farmers to plant cover crops without worrying about whether they would be able to successfully harvest or graze them.
“A year ago this week, the president signed into law the 2018 farm bill, which contained nearly 20 provisions I authored based on input from South Dakota farmers and ranchers.
“This year I’ve closely monitored the Department of Agriculture’s implementation of the bill.
“In particular, I’ve pressed the Agriculture Department to implement the bill’s improvements to the Conservation Reserve Program and hold CRP sign-ups, and I’m pleased that the administration opened a CRP sign-up earlier this month.
“When I talk to farmers and ranchers at home in South Dakota, they emphasize that the most important thing Washington can do to boost our agriculture economy is to take action on trade agreements.
“Farmers and ranchers need access to new and expanded markets for their products.
“And just as importantly, they need certainty about what international markets are going to look like going forward.
“I’ve spent a lot of time this year pushing for Congress to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“After months and months of unnecessary delay, I’m pleased that this agreement is now moving forward.
“I’m hopeful that the Senate will pass it in January so that farmers and ranchers can start experiencing the benefits.
“One piece of good news for corn farmers came this year with the administration’s announcement that it would permit the year-round sale of E15, 15 percent ethanol-blended fuel.
“I’ve spent over a decade advocating for the year-round sale of E15, and I was very pleased by the administration’s announcement.
“However, for corn farmers to see the full benefit of year-round E15 sales, the Environmental Protection Agency needs to start accounting for its unprecedented use of small refinery exemptions.
“These so-called hardship waivers should be limited only to instances where small refiners would no longer be profitable or competitive by complying with their blending obligation under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“On Friday, the EPA is poised to finalize a supplemental rule that it assures us will deliver on the president’s commitments to account for waivers and truly blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol each year.
“However, based on this EPA’s track record, it’s difficult to trust it will retreat from its aggressive issuance of small refinery exemptions.
“I hope the EPA proves me wrong, but I think I speak for most of farm country when I say I’ll believe it when I see it.
“On the topic of renewable fuels, I’m happy to be able to say that the biodiesel tax credit will be extended for five years, through 2022 , as part of this week’s tax extenders deal.
“Biodiesel is a good deal for farmers, as it adds value to each bushel of soybeans by making use of the oil from bean processing.
“And it’s a good deal for our environment, because the use of this fuel lowers emissions.
“Mr. President, as a former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and current chair of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years focused on internet, communications, and data privacy issues.
“One big priority of mine has been paving the way for 5G – the next generation of wireless technology – and ensuring that rural areas and not just big cities get this technology.
“Last year, the president signed into law my bipartisan MOBILE NOW Act, legislation I introduced to help secure adequate spectrum for 5G technology.
“And earlier this year, Senator Schatz and I introduced the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act to address the other part of the 5G equation – infrastructure.
“I was thrilled to be home in Sioux Falls to mark a huge milestone for the city and for South Dakota – the unveiling of Sioux Falls’ first 5G small cells, small antennas that will join traditional cell towers to support 5G technology.
“5G has tremendous promise for rural areas, but it will only deliver on that promise if we ensure that 5G cells are actually deployed in these areas.
“I’m proud that we’ve made a good start in South Dakota.
“Sioux Falls’ mayor Paul TenHaken has worked aggressively to remove barriers to telecommunications investment in Sioux Falls.
“Advancing 5G will continue to be a priority of mine in the Senate.
“We want the United States – and not China or South Korea – to win the race to 5G and seize the economic benefits 5G will bring.
“Another thing I’ve spent a lot of time working on in the Commerce Committee this year is data privacy.
“In October I introduced the Filter Bubble Transparency Act, which is designed to address one aspect of the data privacy problem – the issues that arise from internet companies’ use of consumers’ personal data to shape what consumers see on their platforms.
“I also introduced legislation this year with Senator Ed Markey to address the problem of annoying and illegal robocalls.
“I’m hopeful that our legislation, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act – or TRACED Act – will pass the Senate soon and be on the president’s desk before Christmas.
“Mr. President, I’ve worked on a lot of other bills this year to make life better for South Dakotans and American families.
“I’ve introduced tax reform bills to help small businesses, update the tax code for the 21st century economy, encourage charitable giving, and permanently protect family farms from the death tax.
“I’ve introduced legislation to protect access to health care in rural areas.
“Help Americans repay their student loans.
“And I will continue to work on these issues in the new year.
“As always, my priority will be ensuring that Congress is addressing the challenges facing South Dakota families.
“The holidays are a time to reflect on the blessings we’ve received, and I feel truly blessed to call the great state of South Dakota home.
“It is an honor and a privilege to represent the people of South Dakota here in the Senate.
“To all South Dakotans, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a joyful holiday season.“And I look forward to continuing to represent your priorities in Washington in the new year.”