WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted today the marking of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to create the REA to bring power to rural areas. REA is hailed as having the greatest impact on rural America, credited with transforming a life of challenges into one of productivity and prosperity. Today, REA's successor, the Rural Utilities Service, a mission area of USDA Rural Development, finances electric, telecommunications including broadband, and water and waste systems across rural America.

"With the help of REA, electric cooperatives changed the way rural America works and lives," said Vilsack. "Today's rural electric cooperatives are innovative leaders, delivering smarter infrastructure to deploy broadband and develop renewable energy. The REA, and its successor, the Rural Utilities Service, created sustainable jobs and drove economic development across the countryside. That impact continues today."

"The Rural Electrification Program was one of the greatest successes in government technology programs of all time, and the electrification of rural America is considered one of the biggest engineering triumphs of the last hundred years," said Agriculture Undersecretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager.

Tonsager credits much of the success of REA's wiring of rural America to the relationship built between rural electric cooperatives and USDA 70 years ago. Since 1940, over 900 rural cooperatives have partnered with USDA to bring services to rural communities.

The lessons learned and successes of the REA are still at work today, fostering a new generation of technologies and energy sources to power rural America into the future. Renewable energy projects, such as wind turbines, and new technologies to reduce emissions, such as carbon sequestration are increasingly being integrated into the existing power generation. Rural America plays a key role in expanding renewable and alternative sources of electric power, new technologies to effectively use existing natural resources, and the ability to move electric power from where it is generated to where it's consumed.

"Rural America is where many of tomorrow's technologies and solutions will be tested," said Tonsager. "Rural electrification fueled the economy 75 years ago and greatly improved the quality of life in rural America. Working with cooperatives on issues including development of renewable fuel sources and deployment of rural broadband, the Obama Administration will continue to drive progress into the future to help build strong and economically viable rural communities."

In 2009 alone, $6.5 billion in electric loans were made to support rural electrification.

Tonsager added that RUS is also funding high speed Internet services for the hardest-to-reach rural areas of the country and community water and wastewater systems to ensure safe and reliable water for rural residents and businesses. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided RUS with funding to deliver new broadband networks and to improve critical water and sewer systems in rural communities.

RUS is an agency within USDA Rural Development. USDA Rural Development administers and manages more than 40 housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of 6,100 employees located in 500 national, state and local offices. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of more than $134 billion in loans and loan guarantees.