WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Collin Peterson and members of the House Agriculture Committee called on the Obama administration today to pressure Congressional leaders to create a larger role for agriculture and forestry interests in the developing energy and climate-change legislation.
“A lot of us on the [Agriculture] Committee do not want the EPA near our farms,” Peterson, who chairs the panel, told Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at today’s packed hearing in Washington. “And, I don’t think you are going to get any type of a bill through Congress, whatever the administration wants, that is going to have that system, for whatever it is worth.”
The massive climate-change and energy bill, known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed out of the House Energy Committee last month amid heavy criticism from members representing rural America.
Peterson has said that he and more than 50 representatives will not support the legislation unless there are more offsets for farmers, a larger role for the Agriculture Department (as opposed to Environmental Protection Agency), changes in requirements for renewable fuels and alterations to the carbon footprint calculations for biofuel operations.
“My big problem is that they are mixing climate change together with energy independence,” Peterson told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think that is smart.”
It has remained unclear, however, how much jurisdictional control the Agriculture Committee has over the legislation, which the Obama administration has prioritized and the House leadership has indicated will be introduced on the floor as early as this month.
“You [Vilsack] could help with President Obama and his encouragement to Congressional leadership,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., told Vilsack during today’s hearing.
“We implore, we beg you, to do whatever you can,” said Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Mo..
In statements before the committee, Vilsack said that he believed it was “critical that we engage the participation of farmers, ranchers and forest landowners so that they can both contribute to and potentially benefit from efforts to reduce global warming.”
Vilsack said it would be better to act sooner on the legislation rather than later and that it’s expected that the United States would be a leader in dealing with energy and climate-change issues. It will be “difficult to lead if there is nothing to offer,” Vilsack said.
Without actually criticizing the current version of the bill, Vilsack added that the USDA was “well positioned to work with farmers, ranchers and forest land owners.”
“We are looking forward to working with you to make sure that agriculture and forestry are a part of this… I am confident that that will happen,” Vilsack said under questioning from the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
Rep. Tim Walz, who also sits on the Agriculture Committee, said that he hoped Vilsack’s voice on the matter would “resonate.”
“I think many of us, it is has been very apparent we share the deep concerns about the issue of climate change,” Walz said. “But we are also equally concerned that we do this legislation right.”
The committee is expected to hear later this afternoon from a group of panelists representing agriculture and conservation interests.