Address by President John F. Kennedy
University of North Dakota Fieldhouse September 25, 1963
FROM: NEWS BUREAU, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA, GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA
RE: ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA FIELDHOUSE
SEPTEMBER 25, 1963
FOR RELEASE TO WEDNESDAY P.M.S.
I am delighted with the opportunity to visit this great university. While it may be small compared to some, its role in this state is very large; and I am well aware of the major contribution you are making to the economic progress of North Dakota and the nation. One of your major preoccupations, as well as that of your sister school at Fargo, is the development of new uses and new technologies for our abundant natural resources; and no subject for study is more important today.
This brief trip is a reflection of the importance of that subject; and no tour of conservation landmarks would be complete without a visit to the upper Missouri Valley. For here dramatic changes are taking place in the use of land and water. Here, in North Dakota, the principles and projects of conservation have converted what might otherwise be desolate country into a land of beautiful lakes.
For example; only a few minutes from here is the Garrison Dam; and that one dam alone will have a water area as great as the total water area in North Dakota when this project was begun back in 1946. I have strongly endorsed the Garrison Reclamation Project — which will use water stored behind Garrison Dam; — and I am confident that it will soon be making a major contribution to the future development of this state.
This impressive chain of dams, which includes Garrison, has been called, with some accuracy, the Great Lakes of the Missouri. Behind these dams, the Big Muddy is turning blue. Soil is being saved. Crops are being irrigated. Recreation opportunities are growing. Domestic water supplies are being made available to meet growing needs of cities and towns. Homes and factories and farms and offices are being electrified, making life easier for the farmer and housewife, and making this area more attractive to industry. The six major dams operating on the Missouri will generate enough power to light every home in Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota.
But these massive concrete structures and huge quantities of water are only the tools and symbols of change. Their greatest significance lies in their effects upon the lives of the people in this area — the farm and rural people particularly. For we are gradually narrowing the difference between the standard of living of our city and rural populations. Parity of farm income is important — but beyond that, we are gradually achieving a parity between urban and rural peoples in other aspects of life — in their ability to obtain electric service at comparable rates — in the power and other resources available for economic development — in their facilities and opportunities for recreation.
We are seeking, in short, true parity of opportunity; but it will not come overnight. To achieve it will require a new impetus in electrification development, new starts in our multipurpose dam programs, and new and greater use of our land, water, timber, and wildlife resources.
Today, as we pay tribute to Garrison Dam, I want to stress the most familiar and the most important effort which has been made to secure this kind of parity — the effort of rural electrification. Its story is familiar, but it justifies repetition. In 1935, only one farm in 10 had electricity. Here in North Dakota, less than 3 out of 100 had it. The benefits of electricity were largely confined to the cities, where there was a sufficient concentration of potential consumers to make electric service profitable for those who were able to supply it. Rural service existed only when a main line happened by chance to pass a crossroads community.
But then men of great vision — Senator George Norris and Congressman, later Speaker, Sam Rayburn — undertook to remedy this condition. They guided through the Congress the Rural Electrification Act — the historic act which committed the federal government to a continuing program of technical assistance and long-term financing to bring electric service to the country.
Since that act was passed, over 900 cooperative rural electrification systems have been built with federal financing. More than $5 billion has been advanced to 1,000 borrowers. Over 1,500,000 miles of power lines — enough to criss-cross the nation 500 times — have been built, serving 20 million American people.
This has been a sound investment. For REA has not only raised our standard of living, strengthened our economy, and provided industrial strength when our security required it — in fact, we have even imported this idea and accompanying techniques to help the nations of Latin America — this program has also had a remarkable financial success. Out of roughly 1,000 borrowers, only one is delinquent in payment; and the total losses on the $5 billion advanced are less than $50,000.
How many other investors and lenders can cite a comparable record? Yet all this has been accomplished by cooperatives working in areas that were regarded, at least at the outset, as hazardous to private industry. Here in North Dakota, for example, the REA-financed rural cooperatives serve on the average barely more than 1 electric meter per mile of line — compared to the average in urban-based utility system, of 33 meters to each mile line. And yet REA is a success through the breadth and length of this state. In no other state is so high a percentage of the people — 97 percent — served by REA borrowers as here in North Dakota.
There is reason to take some satisfaction from this record — but there is no reason to assume that the task of rural electrification has been completed. It is not. So long as electricity is not available at reasonable rates on our farms and in our small towns rural areas are at a disadvantage. And so long as an ample, continuing supply of power for rural areas is uncertain for the future, REA will be needed. It is estimated that in the next 7 years the amount of power needed by rural users will double. By 1980 the average farmer will use 4 times the amount he uses today. These increasing demands call for a sharply expanding supply of power at reasonable rates. Recent changes in electric power technology hold out the promise of real savings in lower costs, through the use of extra-high voltage transmission lines and pooled generation facilities. This administration has underway a coordinated national survey, which promises to be helpful in determining the most effective means of bringing these benefits to consumers — including rural consumers.
History has shown, however, that where rural consumers are concerned, obtaining power at reasonable rates is facilitated by a vigorous, healthy, and adequately financed rural electric cooperative system. The rural cooperatives serve not merely to provide power themselves but as a yardstick of reasonableness and a guarantor of fair treatment for all.
There are some who say that the rural electrification loan program gives the cooperatives an advantage over private utilities. But the reason is that rural electric cooperatives largely serve the remote and sparsely settled rural areas largely by-passed by commercial utilities. Their power lines climb over mountains and wade through swamps — where costs are high and commercial appeal is low. Adequate service is available, in many instances, in short, only because the financing of power distribution can be obtained at a favorable rate of interest.
With many fewer customers per mile — with the high costs of meeting high peak loads during the day, when farm equipment is operating — with only a fraction of the total revenues of the city utilities — of course, parity of opportunity requires that the REA cooperative continue to have a more favorable interest rate. And even then, parity of opportunity is yet to be achieved.
Moreover, unless capital is easily available, the increasing power needs of the farmer would soon result in acute shortages of energy. Great quantities of capital are needed in the electric business. And a major source of that capital in the farm areas is REA.
Here in North Dakota, for example, REA is financing the largest lignite-burning plant in North America, located here to tap the lignite deposits of this state which represent 12 percent of the entire world’s coal resources. This plant alone will supply the power needs of 140,000 rural customers, served by 61 electric cooperatives in seven states. This is the kind of action which will help bring parity of opportunity to the upper Midwest. It will not only help meet the rapidly growing needs of the rural systems for more electricity, but permit those systems to avoid unnecessarily high power costs.
De Toqueville said, after his travels through pioneer American, “Everything is extraordinary in America — but the soil upon which (their) institutions are founded is more extraordinary than all the rest.” He was referring to this nation’s family farms — farms such as those which predominate in North Dakota. Today those family farms and small towns still support the essential fabric of our institutions. And to them the rural electric systems which have bought them low-cost electric service represent hope as well as justice. In this effort they must be encouraged.
Low-cost power, in addition to providing light and energy for equipment and appliances, makes possible a greater flexibility in shifting resources and capital to their most economic use. The REA, in cooperation with the new Rural Area Development program, called RAD, permits framers to obtain loans to convert lands from surplus crops to income-producing recreation facilities. Also, under RAD, small towns can obtain technical help to create small watershed developments. A valley-wide program can be initiated — covering all the water flowing into a creek or small river, ending floods and soil erosion, providing a place for wildlife, establishing a water reservoir for community and industrial needs, and permitting water-based recreation. Also under the Rural Area Development program, credit can be obtained to purchase the equipment needed to farm efficiently, or to build or remodel a home when credit is not otherwise available.
This is a real effort toward parity of opportunity. Poverty has too long been a permanent, unwelcome intruder in too many rural areas. Now we have the tools to eliminate it. Where industry is appropriate, the Area Redevelopment Administration can help. Where there is a shortage of needed skills, the Manpower Development Act can train the necessary employees. Where housing is substandard, the special Rural Renewal program — which is similar in design to the Urban Renewal program in our metropolitan areas — can revitalize a community.
RAD helps to coordinate these and other programs for the farmer, but it is, even more importantly, a conservation program. It enables the acreage cut back because of our agricultural abundance to be used constructively instead of lying idle — to be used for outdoor recreation — or to be used to play upon, or to reflect. It represents an investment of public funds to create new opportunities for people to live — instead of new warehouses to store deteriorating commodities.
These and other programs comprise the charter of the new farm goal — parity of opportunity — light and power at costs comparable to that in the city — economic and industrial opportunities without leaving the farms and towns — housing equal to that in metropolitan areas — and adequate facilities and opportunities for recreation.
In the effort to reach this goal, the federal government is supplying the tools; and the universities can provide the research and learning.
Thomas Wolfe wrote: “I think the discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come . . . and I think that all these things are as certain as the morning, as inevitable as the noon.”
With the help of universities such as those in North Dakota, I am sure this prophecy will be fulfilled — in the countryside as well as the city, for the farmer as well as the urban dweller, for every citizen in every part of America.