Sen. Blanche Lincoln Takes Over Agriculture Committee: Bad News for Climate Bill, Good News for Big Ag?

blanche lincoln agriculture committee photo

Photo via Oklahoma Farm Report

In the wake of Ted Kennedy's death, there's been a shuffling of committee positions in the Senate. One notable switch has been the former head of the Agriculture Committee, Tom Harkin (D-IA), has vacated his seat, and it's being taken up by Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). So why does are climate bill watchers and small farm advocates concerned? Because Lincoln is opposed to moving climate legislation forward this year, and, according to the Des Moines Register, she's been as "vigorous proponent" of big farms and livestock as there's been in Congress.That's not to say the previous head was a champion of small farms and climate issues, by any stretch of the imagination. Harkin was a big Monsanto supporter, and praised House Ag Chairman Colin Peterson for essentially obstructing the climate bill. But, as the New Republic notes, he was willing to work with sustainable farm advocates, limited subsidies to big farms, and helped advance child nutrition reform, placing limits on junk food in schools.

It's tough to predict how Lincoln will impact farm policy, but some experts aren't optimistic. From an analysis of her record in the Des Moines Register, TNR spells out what her tenure could mean:

More leniency on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). No bans on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock. No cleanups for manure lagoons. More rice and cotton subsidies. And, by the way, Lincoln thinks limiting payments to even the largest farms is a rotten idea.
And on the climate front, things are equally discouraging. She was one of the four Democratic Senators who formally asked to have cap and trade removed from climate legislation altogether. She's flat-out opposed to the climate bill that passed the House earlier this year, calling it "a complete non-starter". And as Wonk Room points out, she's deeply indebted to the utility industry that would benefit by blocking a climate bill:
This year alone, Lincoln has taken in $156,350 from electric utilities, making her the fourth-most utility-dependent Democrat in the Senate. Worse, among the $163,250 in oil and gas contributions received, Lincoln has taken $10,000 from Koch Industries, the extremist right-wing pollution company behind the Astroturf organizations demonizing Obama and his efforts for energy and health reform.
Essentially, it seems that having Lincoln as the head of a key committee means it'll be a lot tougher for a climate bill to make it through, which has critics concerned.

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