Thursday, September 10, 2009

Senate Ag Appointment Raises New Climate Bill Questions

Sep 9: Arkansas’s senior U.S. Democratic Senator, Blanche Lincoln, has been tapped as the next Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. In the committee’s 184-year history, Lincoln will be the first Arkansan and first female ever to serve as Chairman. She replaces Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) who will fill the Chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, as a result of the death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

Lincoln said, “As a seventh-generation Arkansan and farmer’s daughter, I know my father is smiling down on me today. I am fortunate to have served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry since I was first elected to the Senate in 1998. It has been a committee of significant importance to my constituents and our state’s economy. The Committee’s responsibilities encompass a number of issues that are critical to Americans, particularly those living in rural areas. With such priorities as child nutrition reauthorization, farm bill implementation, and regulation of commodities, the Committee has a full plate. I thank Senator Harkin for his tremendous leadership. As Chairman, I will work with my colleagues to build upon the Committee’s strong record and devote my full energy to producing forward-looking, balanced priorities on behalf of all families and communities. I will continue to fight for the hardworking farm families and rural communities who provide the safest, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber in the world.”

The appointment raises new questions about the Senate passage of a climate and energy bill. Senator Lincoln has already expressed her strong opposition to the House-passed cap-and-trade legislation (HR 2454, ACES, Waxman-Markey) saying it is "deeply flawed." She said any prospective Senate bill must not place a disproportionate share of the economic burden on families and businesses in rural America. The Senate Agriculture Committee is one of six major committees with jurisdiction over climate legislation. Others include: Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works (primary responsibility); Finance; and Foreign Relations.

Agriculture issue and concerns in climate legislation are highly contentious as demonstrated by concerns raised by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) during the debate over passage of the Waxman Markey bill [
See WIMS 5/7/09]. Chairman Peterson vowed not to support the bill until several changes were made. Similarly, as WIMS reported yesterday, the National Wheat Growers Association (NWGA), joined many other agriculture organizations, and approved a new resolution indicating its opposition "to greenhouse gas legislation or regulation that has a negative impact on production agriculture," and saying, "We believe neither greenhouse gas regulation nor legislation should take effect until the major carbon emitting countries of the world have agreed to regulate their own greenhouse gases in a like manner to ours." [See WIMS 9/9/09].

In an August 4, 2009, Senate Finance Committee hearing on climate change, Senator Lincoln said, “In the current economic environment, the average Arkansas family sits down at their kitchen table, where they talk through their worries about retirement plans losing money, college savings accounts losing value, and their neighbors being laid off. Quite simply, they are scared. In addition, our businesses are making tough choices about whether to cut benefits, hours, or workers, or close their doors altogether.

“The majority of Arkansans believe efforts need to be made to reverse the detrimental effects of climate change. However, they are apprehensive, and rightly so, about what a massive policy change such as a cap-and-trade plan would mean for them at a time of tremendous economic uncertainty. The legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives has done nothing to ease these Arkansans’ apprehensions. The House’s Waxman-Markey bill picks winners and losers and places a disproportionate share of the economic burden on families and businesses in rural America. It is a deeply flawed bill. I will not support similar legislation in the Senate.

“Here in the Senate, and in this committee [then speaking of the Senate Finance Committee], we must craft a proposal that works for all of America. Last year, I joined several of my colleagues in laying out a set of principles that must be addressed before I would consider supporting any climate change legislation. I stand by those principles today and look forward to working to craft responsible legislation to curb carbon emissions. There are many options to deal with the issue of climate change and all should be up for discussion in order to meet our environmental and economic goals. I am very proud of the work already completed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where we passed bipartisan legislation that will implement a national renewable electricity standard, increase our investments in energy research and technology, and put in place a plan to combat our energy challenges of the future.

“I hope that the Finance Committee will have the opportunity to create companion legislation to the Energy Committee’s bill, which will focus on investments in new renewable technologies and clean-energy technologies that, combined with the Energy Committee’s bill, will lay the foundation of a new national energy policy that will curb carbon output, create new jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”

In a list of numerous persons commenting on the Lincoln appointment, Gary McChesney, Chief Technology Officer, FutureFuel Chemical Company said his company is "extremely pleased with Senator Lincoln's appointment as the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senator's personnel association with agriculture, coupled with her passion for energy security and climate issues make her an excellent choice to lead the expansion of U.S. agriculture into the production biomass-derived (renewable) energy, the generation of carbon offsets, and the reduction of greenhouse gases. FutureFuel congratulates Senator Lincoln on her appointment and looks forward to supporting the Senator in her new responsibilities.”

Access Senator Lincoln's statement on the appointment (click here). Access an 8/4/09 release on the Senator's opposition to ACES (click here). Access the Senator's supporting comments on her appointment (click here).