Peterson new point man for frustration about climate bill

Rep. Collin Peterson’s (D-Minn.) day job may be chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, but his new role in the caucus is quickly becoming ambassador for Democratic frustration with a contentious climate change bill strongly backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

And much of that new angst, Peterson says, has less to do with his committee or its needs and more to do with others who have heard about his concerns and want him to relay theirs.

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Since Memorial Day, Peterson has stood in the way of quick passage of the legislation sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), demanding changes to a number of provisions he views as harmful to the agriculture community.

Now Peterson, who because of his demands has gotten himself face-time with Waxman, Markey and Pelosi, is being approached by Democrats beyond his committee who are eager to take advantage of his access to the top Democrats.

“Now an even bigger impediment to the bill than agriculture is the electricity allowances,” Peterson explained on Tuesday, citing another of the measure’s provisions.

Peterson said the Waxman-Markey formula for distributing allowances to electricity producers heavily favors populous states over rural ones, meaning rural-state consumers may face a disproportionately high increase on their utility bills compared with consumers in urban areas.

“You have certain states that get significantly more allowances than they actually need, and then you get other states that are, like, at 45 percent of what they need,” he said. “This has created a big revolt with the members. I just had probably six or seven of them come up to me — including three committee chairmen — talking about this.”

Peterson alluded to the bill’s sponsors, who hail from California and Massachusetts, favoring their regional areas.

“It looks to us that they made a deal on the two coasts with the big guys and didn’t think about [farmers and the Midwest],” Peterson said. “So this, I would say right now, is a bigger stumbling block for Waxman than the ag stuff.”

Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on Monday night said his own deadline for completing those negotiations was Wednesday, in the hope of bringing the bill to the floor before the July 4 recess.

 Waxman, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Education and Labor panel Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) are planning on rolling out the Democratic healthcare outline as early as later this week.

On Monday, Waxman said that he wanted to be able to have caucus-wide support for the climate change bill, even from Democrats who currently have problems with parts of the legislation.

 “We want to work out those issues,” he said. “We want them with us.”

To that end — and in addition to an informal whip operation — Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have begun to reach out to their rank-and-file colleagues in what one climate change supporter called “an education campaign.”

“What we’ve done is taken it upon ourselves to talk to our colleagues and explain this to them fully,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “People don’t understand cap-and-trade. That’s the biggest obstacle.”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), whose support was critical to the bill’s emerging from Waxman’s committee, said he’s already been asked to whip his fellow Democrats.

“Some members are easy sells,” he said. “Some members have more questions than I have answers.”

In general, Butterfield said; “The more they’re finding out about it, the more they’re warming up to it.”

But Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a member of the Agriculture Committee who’s a skeptic but a long way from being a solid “no” vote, said he was unaware of any effort by Energy and Commerce Democrats to reach out to those Democrats with the most concerns.

“If it’s going through Chairman Peterson, that’s one thing,” Walz said. “No one is coming to us on this.”

Peterson said the Speaker was made aware of the electricity allowances issue last week, although he said that even he had no idea how big of an issue it would be to so many Democrats until Tuesday.

“She’s, uh, listening,” he said with a laugh when asked how she reacted to being told it was problematic.

After he met with Waxman, Markey and Rep. Rick Boucher (Va.), another Democrat with whom Waxman had to strike a deal in order to move his bill through his panel, Peterson said progress was being made on the electricity and some of the agriculture issues.

“The people who made the deal thought that some of [these] points were valid,” Peterson said. “There seemed to be some recognition of maybe some tweaking being needed in that area. And they’re right now working on language and seeing if we can do anything to work it out.”

Added Boucher: “I think they are addressable concerns.”

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