President-elect Barack Obama has selected former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to serve as his USDA Secretary. The official announcement is set for today as this closes in on completing his cabinet nominations.

Vilsack briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008 race after serving two terms as governor. He is a strong proponent of renewable energy and developing the nation’s alternative-fuel industry.

Also on Obama's agenda for today is announcement that Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), will be nominated as interior secretary.

Vilsack’s nomination comes at a time of extraordinary tumult for the American agricultural industry, which not only has been battered by the recession, but is also increasingly entangled in the contentious debate over energy policy. USDA also is dealing with sharp increases in the demand for food assistance in the wake of the economic turmoil.

BothObama and Vilsack are regarded as staunch advocates of ethanol and other biofuels to reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil. One of the first major decisions the two will have to make is whether to grant the ethanol industry’s requests for billions in federal aid in the stimulus bill.

“The big issue for him and any incoming secretary is going to be biofuels, that’s the sector that right now is in such a volatile position,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group that is a leading critic of federal farm subsidies, told the New York Times.

Vilsack, like Obama, is a strong advocate of combating global warming and developing alternative energy sources. He was the co-chairman of a task force last year on climate change for the Council on Foreign Relations, which recommended phasing out subsidies for mature biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, as well as reducing tariffs on imported biofuels like Brazilian sugar ethanol.

“Let us build a 21st-century rural economy of cutting-edge companies and technologies that lead us to energy and food security,”  Vilsack wrote in one of several op-ed articles he had published during the campaign. “Such an investment will revitalize rural America, re-establish our moral leadership on climate security and eliminate our addiction to foreign oil.”

Source: The New York Times