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Worried GOP ag leader ties his hopes to a Democratic chairman

Agriculture.com Staff 06/12/2009 @ 2:15pm

If the climate change bill working its way through the House of Representatives becomes law, Representative Frank Lucas expects his western Oklahoma district to sprout a forest of electricity generating windmills.

But that hardly means the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee has bought into President Obama’s vision of a green economy, at least in the present form of the bill.

When he talks about the American Clean Energy and Security Act back home, he tells his constituents, “It simply makes everyone pay more to get less and you’re going to be hot in the summer and cold in the winter along with that.”

In an interview with Agriculture Online Friday, a day after the ag committee held a seven-hour hearing on the bill, Lucas says he’s genuinely worried about its effects on the U.S. economy.

There’s no question that the bill would make energy from petroleum and coal more expensive—that’s the whole point, to drive the nation toward greener sources of energy that put out fewer emissions believed to contribute to global warming.

But Lucas continues to believe the costs will be too high, especially for most forms of agriculture, which is an energy intensive industry. At the close of Thursday’s hearing, he learned from The Fertilizer Institute that the nation’s 29 remaining domestic nitrogen plants would likely go out of business in 10 years, leaving the U.S. entirely dependent on imports.

The Obama Administration wants a bill from the House to pressure China, India and other nations to sign on to a tough international global warming treaty after a U.N. conference in Copenhagen next December.

One of the ag group leaders who testified Thursday, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, said he thought that Obama could use the House bill as leverage, especially if the Senate hasn’t passed its own version and the President hasn’t actually signed a climate change bill into law.

Lucas said Friday that he doesn’t know how the Administration plans to negotiate in Copenhagen, but “If that’s what they’re up to, that’s high stakes poker playing.”

If the U.S. goes ahead with climate change legislation without getting other nations on board, it will hurt our economy, Lucas believes.

“If we raise the cost of our goods and services that we sell to the rest of the world, we’ll give up market share,” he told Agriculture Online.

At Thursday’s hearing, Lucas skillfully drew opposition to the climate change bill from every one of the farm group leaders who testified, including Bob Stallman of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Earl Garber of the National Association of Conservation Districts, Fred Yoder of the National Corn Growers Association, Ken Nobis of the National Milk Producers Federation and the Farmer’s Union’s Johnson.

He asked each one if they support the current version of the bill, which doesn’t clearly mention that agriculture will be able to sell carbon credits to capped industries such as coal-fired electric plants. All said they would not. If ag carbon credits were thrown in, would they support a bill that lets the Environmental Protection Agency run the program? Again, every one was opposed.

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