Wall Street Journal
By Stephen Power and Siobhan Hughes
June 17, 2009


WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Tuesday that Farm Belt lawmakers are in "a big revolt" over the leading congressional proposal to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said he and Farm Belt colleagues want the measure overhauled to soften the impact on areas of the country, such as the Midwest, that rely heavily on cheap, coal-burning power plants. He also challenged the White House’s latest climate warnings, saying farmers in his district would welcome warmer temperatures after a recent cold spell.

"It looks to us they made a deal on the two coasts with the big guys and didn’t think about us…the farms, the Midwest," Mr. Peterson said, referring to the bill’s leading authors, Reps. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) and Edward Markey (D., Mass.).

The comments by Mr. Peterson are the latest sign that regional divides within the Democratic caucus are threatening the party leadership’s effort to pass climate legislation before the July Fourth recess. At that point, House leaders and President Barack Obama want to shift the House’s attention to health-care legislation.

Mr. Peterson’s comments also suggest that Democratic leaders are at odds not only over how to curb emissions, but also over the urgency of doing so.

On Tuesday, the White House released a report based on the work of government scientists that said climate change will cause more frequent and intense heat waves in the U.S. and more severe and frequent flooding that will increasingly swallow up coastal lands.

For agriculture, the report found that higher temperatures will mean a longer growing season for crops that do well in heat such as melons, okra and sweet potatoes, but a shorter growing season for crops such as lettuce and broccoli that are more suited to cooler conditions. The report said higher temperatures also will cause plants to use more water to keep cool.

In an effort to highlight what they see as the stake that U.S. farmers have in combating climate change, members of the Obama administration — including the administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco — were expected to participate in a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the report’s findings on agriculture.

But Mr. Peterson, when asked by reporters Tuesday about the report’s findings, said they run counter to what many in his region are experiencing.

"We’ve just had the biggest floods and coldest winters we’ve ever had," he said. "They’re saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it’s going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that’s a good thing since they’ll be able to grow more corn."

He added that the measure proposed by Messrs. Waxman and Markey would penalize farmers in the Midwest who rely on coal-burning electric cooperatives.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether Messrs. Waxman and Markey would amend the measure to meet Mr. Peterson’s demands, a step that would mean undoing agreements worked out over several months with representatives of the nation’s biggest utilities.

Edison Electric Institute President Thomas Kuhn, who represents the nation’s largest shareholder-owned utilities, said after a meeting with Messrs. Waxman and Peterson Tuesday that his group is happy with the current version of the measure.

The measure by Messrs. Waxman and Markey aims to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 17% beneath 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050. The proposal calls for capping emissions and requiring companies to hold permits to emit such gases as carbon dioxide.

Write to Stephen Power at [email protected] and Siobhan Hughes at [email protected]