Much ado about not much: New Ag Chairwoman may not change Senate dynamic on climate bill push

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) has taken over as chair of the Senate Agriculture committee from Tom Harkin (D-IA).  The NY Times (via Climate Wire) reports, “the new chairwoman said she does not expect her panel to hold a markup on any contributions to the climate bill.”

Nonetheless, since Obama is on a seeming down swing, the media herd have been stampeding to write the obituary for the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill. Hence the excitement over any potential bad news, as in the Politico’s “Lincoln casts doubts on climate bill” or Newsweek‘s, “Musical Chairs in the Senate Present Worries for Enviros“:

…. it will be in her political interest to hold up climate-change legislation until after the election. Environmentalists hoping the Senate will strengthen the House’s Waxman-Markey bill should start readjusting their expectations.

The latter comes from the too aptly named blog of Newsweek‘s political reporters blog, “The Gaggle,” which they define as “a flock of reporters pecking at a politician.”

Note to Newsweek:

  1. Why must you insist on framing this issue of paramount importance to all Americans, all humans in fact, as something only enviros care about?
  2. I don’t think any enviros were hoping the Senate will strengthen the bill significantly (certain not ones likely to read The Gaggle).
  3. Small point, but it looks like you got the entire story wrong.

The NYT via CW has a much more detailed and savvier analysis of Lincoln’s stance, which I’ll excerpt, since she is a major swing vote:

The leadership shift on the Agriculture Committee may not significantly alter how the Senate deals with farm concerns in the climate bill, even though the new chairwoman is an outspoken critic of cap-and-trade legislation, senators and lobbyists said yesterday.

Senate Democrats yesterday placed Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) as the new head of the Agriculture Committee, the result of a leadership shuffle following last month’s death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The agriculture panel is one of more than half a dozen committees in the Senate that could weigh in on global warming legislation this fall.

Lincoln brings a markedly different voice on climate and farmland conservation than the previous chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Harkin stepped down from the farm committee’s top spot yesterday to take over Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Harkin, an enthusiastic supporter of programs that pay farmers for environmental conservation, said he would support cap-and-trade legislation, so long as it includes incentives for coal-based electric utilities and for farmers who want to participate in carbon offsets and conservation programs.

But Lincoln has expressed skepticism about Democratic efforts to pass a sweeping energy and climate bill. “It is not my preference to move on cap and trade this year,” she said at an Agriculture Committee hearing on the issue yesterday.

Concerned that the cap-and-trade bill may increase costs for farmers too much, Lincoln recommended that the Senate instead take a more narrow approach with renewable energy legislation by taking up the energy bill the Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed this summer. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to pair the energy bill with cap-and-trade legislation.

Like Harkin, the new chairwoman said she does not expect her panel to hold a markup on any contributions to the climate bill. Rather, the committee may make recommendations to Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) Environment and Public Works Committee, which is expected to do the majority of the work on the bill. Lincoln also said she would be open to more hearings on the issue.

But even though Lincoln is much less enthusiastic than Harkin about cap-and-trade legislation, lawmakers and agriculture lobbyists still expect her to be active when farm members weigh in behind the scenes.

“Without a doubt there are opportunities for us to be able to make recommendations in terms of where we hope that the climate change bill or cap-and-trade bill that EPW is working on is going to go,” Lincoln told reporters in a conference call yesterday.

And while Lincoln does not support the cap-and-trade bill now, the centrist Democrat was already a target for Boxer and other climate advocates courting votes on the measure. Advocates say Boxer would have needed to reach out to Lincoln regardless of her rank on the Agriculture Committee, in an effort to get the 60-vote majority needed to stop a filibuster and pass the bill.

“She has raised concerns about the overall bill, but at the same time, I think everyone recognizes that if we are going to pass a bill and get 60 votes, people like Blanche Lincoln need to get on board, and they need to make sure it works for them,” said Jad Daley, director of the Climate Conservation Program for the Trust for Public Land.

“One way or another she was going to need to be a part of the 60 votes for the bill, this might put her in a position where she can have more input and feel like she can support the bill,” Daley added.

Nate Silver’s “Probability of Yes” vote for Lincoln was 41.6%, but as Frank O’Donnell, head of Clean Air Watch, notes, “If anything, she might be more sensitive to the leadership’s priorities now that she’s essentially one of the chieftains. She’s no longer somebody in the pack.”

For her part, Boxer brushed aside Lincoln’s public opposition to the cap-and-trade bill. “She’s such an expert on agriculture. It’s great,” Boxer said. “And I look forward to working with her on all of the issues, including climate.”

… Lincoln has been far from consistent as the climate debate progressed over the last decade.

She voted in 2003 and 2005 against a cap-and-trade bill authored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Last year, Lincoln sided with Democratic leaders as another climate bill sputtered on the floor, though she quickly joined up with nine other moderate Democrats to detail a range of outstanding concerns that had not been addressed.

Lincoln in 2007 signed on as co-sponsor to Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-Del.) legislation that would cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants only. And she also teamed up that year with Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Warner (R-Va.) on a bill that would track the prices for carbon dioxide in a new U.S. climate market and allow industries a flexible option if prices stay too high for too long (Greenwire, July 24, 2007).

“She has really made a careful study on the cost side of the ledger,” said Scott Segal, an industry attorney at Bracewell & Guiliani. “That prepares her very well to pursue those objectives in the Senate Agriculture Committee.”

Segal downplayed Lincoln’s recent comments about the schedule for moving the bill. “The question of when to do climate change legislation is a tactical one that’s related to a lot of competing agenda items,” he said. “The real question we should be asking is what does the leader of the Agriculture Committee know about the substance.”

Re-election fight

Lincoln’s ascension to the top spot on the Agriculture Committee may provide a boost to her re-election hopes, though pundits say the impact of her new role may not be immediately apparent in the politically difficult climate.

Coming from a solidly Republican state, Lincoln has long been viewed as among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats heading into 2010 campaign. And recent polling indicates that the two-term senator is likely to face a fierce challenge next year, though at the moment there is no clear cut front-runner in the GOP field….

A late August Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll showed Lincoln trailing Baker, 42 percent to 40 percent; trailing Coleman 41 percent to 40 percent; and just ahead of Cotton, 41 percent to 39 percent. The dead heat in the polls comes even as voters acknowledged that they knew little about her GOP opponents.

The same poll also showed Lincoln’s approval rating at 36 percent compared with 44 percent who disapprove of her performance — a double-digit shift since the same poll was conducted in March. The poll even shows tepid approval of Lincoln among Democrats, and she may face a primary challenge from state Sen. Bob Johnson.

Asked by reporters if she thought the chairmanship would help her chances in her re-election fight, Lincoln chirped: “I sure hope so.”

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6 Responses to Much ado about not much: New Ag Chairwoman may not change Senate dynamic on climate bill push

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Any person concerned with agriculture and farms and food who is against addressing the climate problem, or for delaying efforts to address it, is acting in an incredibly short-sighted way and is not using science to connect some rather basic dots.

    The question, of course, is not whether to optimize farm/ag matters OR to address the climate problem. Instead, the question is how to do both at the same time, keeping in mind that climate is foundational to both food and to humans, and to farms, and also keeping in mind that addressing the climate and energy matters requires long-lead-time actions, i.e., acting NOW if you want to even begin influencing matters.



  2. David B. Benson says:

    I think it time to end the DoA land set-aside program.

    Use these poorer quality lands for biofuels (not ethanol from corn).

  3. paulm says:

    so we can’t even dispose of our nuclear subs and we want to ramp up nuclear power. Just another sustainable nightmare lesson we don’t learn.

    MoD sacks advisers in row over disposing of old nuclear subs

    An 11-year investigation into how to safely dismantle 15 decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines has been thrown into turmoil after two of the environmental experts brought in as advisers were sacked. Deep disagreements have split the 25-member advisory group, with eight consultants now considering resignation, the Observer understands.

    Since 1998, the Ministry of Defence has been looking for ways of dismantling the submarines and storing their radioactive waste on land.

  4. “since Obama is on a seeming down swing”

    Is Obama on a downswing?

    Even the Republican congressional leadership is admitting that health-care reform will pass. Republican David Brooks wrote that Obama’s speech on health care was the greatest speech of his life.

    And, as Joe Romm has said, it will be easier to pass a climate bill than to pass health-care reform.

  5. yogi-one says:

    I’m with jeff higgins @#1.

    Some knowledgable person, preferably a climate scientist with some political clout, should sit her down and explain why addressing climate change is good for farmers, and not addressing it is bad for farmers.

    Show her a climate map of South Texas over the past 10 years. That’s a good example of what doing nothing is going to bring for more of America’s farmers.

    It’s nice that she can do cost analyses, that’s definitely a necessary skill, but she needs to see the big picture. Allowing farmers to continue ratcheting up the greenhouse gases and pollution from pestcides ultimately backfires on the very farmers she cares so much about. If farmers destroy their rnvironment, they are out of business, and drought anf food shortages ensue. Having a climate that is protected from AGW is the best insurance to guarantee good crops in the future.

    Why doesn’t she get that? Or, maybe the question is, who is paying her off to overlook it?

  6. Michael says:

    Well, it’s a typical tree hugger issue is it?