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Likely Agriculture Committee Chair Lincoln Will Be Tougher Sell on Climate Legislation

With Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) apparently assuming the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, moderate Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is set to take over as chair of the Agriculture Committee.

The shift would have the most significant impact on the Senate’s pending climate legislation, as the Ag Committee is expected to shape the offset and agricultural provisions. While Harkin has been supportive of Senate action on climate legislation, Lincoln has been less than enthusiastic.

Lincoln has called for a delay on climate legislation until 2010, arguing that it would be too difficult for the Senate to move both health care and a climate and energy bill this year. “The problem of doing both of them together is that it becomes too big of a lift,” Lincoln said last month. Though the Senate could move energy legislation, she said, “I see the cap-and-trade being a real problem.”

Lincoln recently called the House climate and energy bill “a complete non-starter,” pledging that the Senate would move more slowly on legislation do more to address regional concerns. Her own concerns have been potential rises in energy costs and impacts on agriculture. As a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she agreed to support a renewable electricity standard only after it was lowered from 20 percent by 2020 to 15 percent.

She’s also been very pro-domestic fossil fuel development, noting on her Website, “I am committed to examining all options that will lessen our dependence on foreign oil, including incentives for conservation technologies, as well as offshore drilling.” Last summer she was a member of a bipartisan group of senators calling for an energy bill that included additional development of fossil fuel resources, in addition to tax incentives for renewables.

While she voted for cloture on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act in 2008, she joined with nine others on a letter explaining why they would not have voted for final passage. She argued that the bill did give adequate attention to agricultural interests. “Agriculture and forestry can play a strong role in our global fight against climate change, yet the current bill does not fully utilize the capabilities of our farmers and forests,” said Lincoln. “Their contributions should be recognized.”

The Ag Committee will hold a full day of hearings on climate policy today, so there will be more on the significance of this shift to come.

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