The American Farm Bureau, the major agricultural lobby group, is calling on farmers to be even more aggressive in their opposition to climate legislation. And in a vehement speech to an AFB conference last weekend, the organization’s president, Bob Stallman, set the tone by comparing proposed regulation of the agriculture sector to a policy to attone for slavery following the Civil War. “A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule,” said Stallman. “The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”
Stallman’s comments signaled that the farm lobby intends to intensify its already strenuous attacks on any government attempt to curb carbon emissions. Stallman vowed in his speech that his group would fight “aggressively” against “misguided, activist-driven regulation.” The conference also included a session disputing the existence of climate change—titled “Global Warming: A Red Hot Lie?” and featuring climate skeptic Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
And the lobby’s allies in Congress are taking notice. The Washington Independent reports that Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who voted for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the House, recently told a conservative talk radio show that if a climate bill passes the Senate he wouldn’t support its final passage. “First of all, this isn’t going anyplace in the Senate,” Peterson said. “But if it did and we ended up with a bill that was similar to what came out of the House and that was going to become law, I would vote no.”
Earlier this year, AFB was instrumental in pushing for changes to Waxman-Markey that benefited industrial farmers—but then went on to oppose the final legislation. In the weeks following the bill’s passage, Stallman appeared before a Senate panel to not only demand more concessions, but to repeat climate skeptic talking points. Shortly thereafter, AFB launched a new lobbying campaign against a climate bill in the Senate. AFB spent at least $1.6 million in the second and third quarters of 2009 lobbying Congress, with climate among their chief issues. Its new campaign will be something to watch out for in the weeks ahead as agricultural interests ramp up efforts to sideline the Senate bill.
With Peterson’s new reversal on the climate bill, he’s marching in lockstep with the farm lobby. In the final days before the House was due to vote on Waxman-Markey, Peterson held the bill hostage, demanding major giveaways to Big Ag in return for the votes of Democrats on his committee. He got what he wanted—agriculture was exempted from emissions restrictions, the Department of Agriculture would oversee offsets, and a provision that would have required accounting for the lifecycle emissions of biofuels was scrapped.
At the time, Peterson cheered the deal. But now he has apparently changed his tune. This is important, because he will likely have to vote on a bill again—either the legislation that comes back from the Senate, or a new bill next year should the current House bill die off. And because the House bill passed by a margin of just one vote, there’s no room for more Democratic defectors.