Having Tweeted and Facebooked asking for suggestions of what to ask the White House, I was able to ask questions of two presenters. I asked questions about the White House's response to flooding along the Missouri river, and specifically what can be done to change how the Corps of Engineers has managed the water flow. Later in the meeting, I asked the President's energy advisor about what the White House is doing to hold TransCanada accountable as they're looking to start work on the Keystone XL pipeline.
With regard to flooding, I pointed out that after what happened in the south, some people in rural communities are getting the impression that their interests are somehow less important than those in urban areas. Deputy advisor Stephanie Cutter reassured everyone there that they understand the need to protect rural communities, which is why the President just announced the formation of the White House Rural Council, to address issues including flooding and water management, as well as rural broadband and healthcare access.
When the conversation turned to energy issues, I relayed the story of Keystone's recent 400 barrel leak in North Dakota, and throughout the pipeline, which have been significantly more frequent than TransCanada's original estimates. Heath Zichal, the President's deputy assistant on energy and climate change, made it clear that the White House understands the ever-increasing need to ask tough questions of TransCanada as they're looking to build a second pipeline. Right now, the State Department (which is involved because of a Nixon executive order and the fact that the pipeline crosses an international border) has just closed its comment period, and has already sent additional questions to TransCanada, requiring them to answer additional concerns over enviornmental impact.
In the end, a 20-second soundbyte on these complex issues does not fully address either situation, but it's good to have started the conversation with the White House, and I'm encouraged to feel that they do understand what's at stake, and where Midwesterners are coming from. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation on these and a number of other rurally significant issues.