Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary for Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture – Dallas Tonsager was appointed by President Obama as Under Secretary for Rural Development and sworn into office in May of 2009. Tonsager has over 35 years of agricultural, business, cooperative and financial experience through his work as a farmer, businessman, and community, state and national leader.

Prior to joining USDA, Tonsager served from 2004 to 2009 on the board of directors for the Farm Credit Administration. As one of three board members, Tonsager was responsible for regulatory oversight of the Farm Credit System, which provides approximately one-third of the agricultural credit in the United States. During his tenure as a board member of the Farm Credit Administration, Mr. Tonsager supported passage of a new authority, which allowed Farm Credit System institutions to invest in rural communities across America. Among the many benefits provided by this authority was that it also opened a way for the System to provide funding for critical access hospitals in rural America.

Tonsager served as the executive director of the South Dakota Value Added Agriculture Development Center from 2002 to 2004, leading efforts to develop farmer-owned agricultural facilities, such as ethanol, to increase economic value and consumer appeal of agricultural products. The center is composed of 18 farm and rural business organizations, and provides project management, feasibility assessment, business planning, education, funding access, research and networking assistance.

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton selected Tonsager to serve as USDA South Dakota state director for Rural Development. In 1999, he was recognized as one of two outstanding state directors in the nation and received the national Hammer Award from then-Vice President Gore for his work as part of a team that reinvented USDA rural business guarantee loan program. Tonsager served as state director until 2001.

Tonsager grew up on a dairy farm near Oldham, S.D. and has been involved in the family diversified farm operations since 1976. He graduated from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science in agriculture in 1976. Tonsager and his wife, Sharon, have two sons.

Congressman Steve Cohen, Representing Tennessee’s 9th District – Congressman Steve Cohen is a fourth-generation Memphian who has dedicated his life to public service. As a child, he was stricken with polio, but through hard work, he was able to beat this debilitating disease.  The challenges of living with polio as a youngster taught him early in life how to overcome obstacles through persistence and determination, values which would shape his career as a legislator.  Filing to run for office on the same day he first registered to vote, Congressman Cohen stepped onto the path that has defined his life and affected the lives of people in Memphis, across Tennessee and now across America throughout his career in national, state and local politics.

Upon election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, Congressman Cohen immediately distinguished himself on the Hill for his thoughtful legislation and quick wit.   Speaker Nancy Pelosi even referred to him as the “conscience of the freshman class” in 2008.   In August of 2008, he was instrumental in passing a House resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans.  This historic legislation marked the first time the United States government has ever apologized for these past injustices.  He has remained a steadfast leader on issues of importance to the people of the 9th District, leading the policy debate on issues like infant mortality, universal health care, the economy, crime and criminal rehabilitation, transportation and infrastructure, and of course, education.

Dr. Len Peters, Cabinet Secretary, Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet – Appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear in 2008 to oversee Kentucky’s energy, environmental protection and natural resources programs, Dr. Len Peters has developed and implemented Kentucky’s first comprehensive strategic energy plan to address the state’s growing demands for energy in an environmentally sustainable and economically effective manner. He also has been instrumental in creating a unique partnership opportunity among the Argonne National Laboratory, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and two of the state’s leading research institutions, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville to advance lithium battery manufacturing research and development.

Dr. Peters is a recognized leader in research, academia and management. He served at the Battelle Memorial Institute, a leading nonprofit applied science and technology development company, where he was senior vice president and director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and has been recognized as a distinguished alumnus by that university. He has been recognized for his achievements with honors ranging from the National Science Foundation Award to the Oak Ridge Associated Universities’ Outstanding Leadership Award.

Keynote Debate: The Future of Southern Forests in Bioenergy – What effect will the presence of a growing bioenergy industry have on Southern Forests? Will they thrive? Will they suffer? Join us for a lively discussion on this topic during our Keynote Debate on October 14th at Biomass South 2010. The session moderator is Brent Bailey, Southeast Coordinator, 25x’25. Participants are Ron Bell, President, Arkansas Association of Resource & Conservation Districts and Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director, Dogwood Alliance.