May 21, 2009

The House Aghghghghg! Committee
This narrative hasn't really broken through to the MSM yet, but Tom Philpott has picked up on several stories that indicate Rep. Collin Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is prepared to kill the Waxman-Markey climate change bill if his committee isn't able to perform a full "mark-up" (i.e. make alterations and amendments) to the bill.

Declaring "We've thrown a pitchfork in the sand," Peterson wants "wants a full markup to alter what he and other [ag] committee Democrats think are inadequate provisions on everything from fuel standards to renewable energy definitions to regulations governing the trading of carbon derivatives created through a cap-and-trade system," The Hill reports.

Mind you, it isn't as though Waxman and Markey ever intended for their bill to penalize industrial ag for it GHG emissions; ag has been exempted from penalty since the start of the debate. It's just that Peterson wants to ensure that, for the foreseeable future, any cap-and-trade scheme will reward industrial ag for spectral GHG sequestration, and not penalize it for its all-too-real GHD emissions. And the federal government's massive and wide-ranging support for corn ethanol, treated by the Minnesota rep as if Moses had decreed it as the Eleventh Commandment, must never be questioned, greenhouse gas footprint be damned. Peterson is blatantly and publicly trying to rig the game before it starts.

This is a fairly significant power grab. There is justification, of course. The Ag Committee does have a role in energy policy thanks to the biofuel boondoggle and it does have explicit jurisdiction over commodities markets, under which the new carbon trading system would technically fall. Plus, he's got a nice collection of vulnerable Housemembers on his committee, either because they are freshman or in thrall to Big Ag for campaign cash. We're reaping the whirlwind now for the mess that is the House Agriculture Committee.

To let that bunch loose on Waxman-Markey would be a disaster -- I can't imagine that Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman, or Speaker Pelosi for that matter, would allow it. One of two things will happen, in my view. Either Pelosi will threaten Peterson and/or his committee-members or she'll count votes and realize she won't need the votes of the 26 Dems who sit on Ag -- though that one's hard to believe, or she'll let Peterson have his way and water down the bill even further, which could give wavering green groups more ammunition to oppose it. This could turn out to be a significant test of Pelosi's strength. And given how unhinged Peterson has sounded of late, this doesn't seem like something that can be defused with a few minor tweaks. Sadly, it was just this sort of interest-group inspired nickel-and-diming that was predicted to doom climate change legislation.

Stay tuned.

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