WASHINGTON — A paper published by a think tank last month warned that
Sen. Blanche Lincoln's ascendancy to the Agriculture Committee
chairmanship was a bad omen for passage of climate-change legislation
in 2010 due to her close ties to agricultural producers and processors
seen as major contributors of greenhouse gases.
The paper, written by former Washington Post reporter Dan Morgan, was
released by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, about a week
before Lincoln became one of only three Democrats to co-sponsor a bill
— largely drafted by lobbyists for carbon-emitting industries — that
would gut the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to proceed on its
own with carbon restrictions. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
was lead sponsor.
The Post reported Jan. 11 that lobbyists greatly assisted in writing
the bill. Two days later, the German Marshall Fund, which describes
itself as a “non-partisan American public policy and grant-making
institution,” released Morgan's paper that fingered Lincoln.
Called “The Farm Bill and Beyond,” the 62-page document warned:
“Lincoln's appointment was yet another example of Democratic real
politik trumping policy interests: It may weaken the chances for
climate-change legislation, but it will strengthen her fund-raising
ability going into a tough 2010 re-election campaign. Lincoln will be
well positioned to influence trade and climate policy, farm subsidies,
and food issues such as the use of growth hormones in milk and
antibiotics in animal feeds (a key interest of Arkansas-based Tyson
Foods, the world's largest processor of and marketer of beef, chicken,
Lincoln was appointed chairman of the committee in September.
Morgan, a freelance writer on energy and agriculture, summed up that
“Old Ag forces have been immeasurably strengthened” by Lincoln's
gaining the chairmanship in the fall. He defined “Old Ag” as the major
farming organizations and commodity groups who favor the status quo in
government subsidies and programs.
Old Ag also sees agriculture “as a loser in climate-change legislation,” Morgan wrote.
Agricultural practices are blamed for producing at least 15 to 20
percent of greenhouse gases by United Nations panels. Meat production,
highlighted by deforestation to make room for grazing, and manure that
emits nitrous oxide and methane gas, have been especially blamed. But
crop practices that include fertilizer applications and some
cultivation techniques are also viewed as contributors.
Morgan contributed an article to his former newspaper in August that
coined the term “Agracrats” to describe Democrats from intensive
farming states in the South and Great Plains. They overlap
significantly with the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, he said, and
added their desire to protect farm programs was certain to cause
flare-ups with more liberal Democrats.
“The furious farm-bloc reaction to the climate bill approved by the
House Energy and Commerce Committee … [in June 2009] caught House
Democratic leaders off guard,” Morgan wrote in the Washington Post
An examination of Lincoln's Senate record on climate-change policy over
the past decade shows some flip-flops in votes and positions on climate
change. In Senate testimony and press releases she has generally backed
the idea of addressing global warming, but has warned such legislation
should not harm the economies of poor states such as her own.
In 2003, Lincoln opposed a less ambitious bill to address climate
change sponsored by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. She
expressed fears about higher utility rates, even a $5 a month increase,
and other costs being a hardship for her low-income constituents.
In 2007, Lincoln changed and signed on as a co-sponsor to essentially
the same legislation. In testimony before the Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee, she explained her reversal with references to
duck-hunting traditions in her family and in Arkansas. She also cited
an Arkansas State University study that said global warming threatened
bird migration patterns.
In testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
that year she said: “If climate change were to continue on its current
path it is not too far fetched to say that ducks could stop migrating
to the deep South altogether as warmer temperatures in more northern
regions would reduce their need to do so. As the study points out, the
effect on the small communities whose economy depends on hunting season
could be devastating.”
And in 2008, Lincoln signed on to a letter written by Sen. Jay
Rockefeller, D-W. Va., and sent to Boxer and Majority Leader Harry
Reid, that outlined factors that should be considered in drafting a
cap-and-trade system for limiting greenhouse gases.
One of those was to “fully recognize agriculture and forestry's role” in contributing to the problem.
In 2009, however, she made it clear that she could not support the
climate change legislation that emerged from the House Energy and
Commerce Committee and passed that chamber in June.
“The majority of Arkansans rightly 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,” she said in a statement.
“The legislation passed by the House,” she added, “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.”
Lincoln offered similar explanations last week as she co-sponsored
Murkowski's bill. “Heavy-handed EPA regulations will cost us jobs and
put us at an even greater competitive disadvantage to China, India and
others,” a statement said.
The Arkansas senator was immediately praised by many agricultural groups for her support of the anti-EPA legislation.
Morgan, who wrote the think tank paper, as well as many political
observers, see her position as reflecting her need to continue getting
campaign funds from agricultural interests for what is expected to be a
tough re-election fight this year.
It could be an interesting issue in her re-election bid. Pollster
Earnie Oakleaf of the Little Rock firm Opinion Research Associates said
in a telephone interview that his past polling shows Arkansans are more
pro-environmental protection than generally thought. That was even the
case when questions pitted protection of the environment against
“I was stunned,” Oakleaf said. He added that he thinks such attitudes are caused by the state's hunting and fishing traditions.
There is little doubt Lincoln's re-election campaign fund-raising has
depended heavily not only on agribusinesses but on energy and other
resource–extraction industries that emit carbon.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign research
organization, lists agribusinesses, oil and gas companies and utilities
as among her top 10 sources of support from industries. She also has
received significant contributions from companies involved in
“agricultural services and products.”
In all, the center says she's received $810,000 from various
agriculture-related interests and $609,000 from energy and natural
resource firms, a category that includes electric utilities, oil and
gas, mining and forestry companies.
Among all 2010 congressional candidates, Lincoln is the No. 1 recipient
of contributions from agricultural and oil and gas interests.
Through Sept. 30, the date of the latest Federal Election Commission
filings, the incumbent Democrat had raised a total of $7.17 million for
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