WASHINGTON, D.C. — The latest salvo in central Illinois lawmakers’ fight to keep Peoria’s Ag Lab open is a direct appeal to President Donald Trump to reconsider his proposal last month to shutter it and other research laboratories around the nation.
The letter, sent to the White House on Monday, is co-signed across party lines by U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood, Cheri Bustos and Adam Kinzinger and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.
It directly spells out to Trump the potential local and nationwide effects of a closure, from eliminating “American jobs that are vital to the local and U.S. economy” to creating conditions that would “hurt the nation’s capacity to innovate, reduce our competitive edge in the global agricultural marketplace, cut jobs, and hurt farmers and rural America.”
The letter was also signed by most of the state’s congressional delegation, including Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Robin Kelly, former Peorians. The only ones missing are Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Mike Quigley, both Democrats, and Reps. Mike Bost, Rodney Davis and John Shimkus, all Republicans.
It’s part of a broader education campaign that lawmakers are engaging in to raise the lab’s profile and highlight its research accomplishments.
“Now it’s really educating people here, whether it’s the Appropriations Committee, whether it’s the Department of Agriculture, whether it’s the new administration, about the important work that gets done at the Ag Lab,” LaHood said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office last week. “Whether that’s on food research, whether that’s on food safety, whether that’s some of the private sector work going on there, whether that’s on biofuels, whether that’s on modification of crops, corn and soybeans in particular.”
Bustos pointed to a host of successes and ongoing research in Peoria, with more than 40 research projects underway, and another 70-plus where scientists are partnering with private industry. She said green lubricants, trans-fat replacements and biofuel research into pennycress are among the work being done.
“We want to be shoring up the rural economy, and this is part of that,” Bustos said, arguing that the Trump administration promised to shore up the rural economy.
Those research successes are things the lab has been a little lackluster at promoting, LaHood admitted, noting that “when you meet the researchers, the scientists, the Ph.D.s that work there, these are quiet people that don’t seek the limelight, but go there every single day and are dedicated and committed to the work they do on agriculture. … I wish everybody could see that.”
Ultimately the calls to shutter the facility may end up being “a valuable experience” for locals, including facility employees who have not faced a similar challenge in decades, Durbin said from his office just off the floor of the Senate, where he serves as the No. 2 Democrat and has a seat on the appropriations committee.
“That lab’s been there a long time, and it reaches a point that people don’t appreciate the work that they’ve done and the work that they’re still doing,” he said. “When your existence is challenged and you have to explain your mission and what you’ve accomplished, it helps to educate a new generation.”
LaHood even floated the idea that if there’s an appetite for consolidation in the administration, Peoria would be an ideal location for more research brought in from other facilities “because they have the space and the infrastructure there.”
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.