Photo: Name Your Frame & Photography via Collin PetersonThe sad saga of climate legislation under Obama — its harrowing ride through Congress and final collapse — features many villains. For me, the most maddening isn’t some Tea Party ideologue railing against the “climate conspiracy.” Rather, it’s a powerful Democrat named Collin Peterson, rep from Minnesota, the House’s ranking Agriculture Committee member, and the man I once deemed the corn jihadi.
Peterson’s opposition to climate policy doesn’t stem from any insane denialist creed. Indeed, he once even welcomed global warming — on the theory that it would help “my farmers … grow more corn.” The “more corn” bit cuts to the heart of Peterson’s stand. He is probably the agribusiness lobby’s fiercest and most powerful congressional champion. Industrial agriculture is a greenhouse-gas-spewing machine, and any effective climate policy would rein it in, propelling farmers to grow food in less chemical-intensive, soil-destroying ways. Peterson’s position is really quite simple: Anything that would curtail the power of agribusiness must be stopped.
Back in 2009, when the Waxman-Markey climate bill was lurching through the House, I reported on Peterson’s relentless and successful effort to transform the bill into another sop for Big Ag. Even after an agribusiness-friendly version of Waxman-Markey passed the House with Peterson’s support, he continued railing against climate legislation, vowing to weigh it down with yet more agribiz goodies if it ever made it out of the Senate and to the reconciliation process. Of course, it skidded to a halt in that inglorious chamber, the Senate, even after — as Ryan Lizza showed in his wonderful New Yorker piece — the dirty-energy industry had larded it with concessions.
With climate legislation crushed, the battle to curb greenhouse-gas emissions has shifted to the EPA, which wants to use the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions. Once again, Peterson has mounted his mighty tractor in defense of Big Ag. He is joining forces with energy-industry stalwarts Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) to sponsor legislation that would strip away the agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases, Politico reports. Their effort coincides with a similar bill on the Senate side sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), that relentless denier of climate change. This latest move isn’t Peterson’s first attempt to quash the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases; a year ago, he sponsored nearly identical legislation.
Apparently, the Koch brothers — the oil magnates who shovel millions of dollars into the effort to maintain the energy status quo — have noted Peterson’s good works on behalf of their cause. In 2009, Peterson was one of the select few congressional Democrats who benefited from Koch largesse. On Thursday, Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ main vehicle for promoting their dirty-energy agenda, issued a press release praising Peterson for joining forces with the likes of Inhofe and “speaking with a clear voice that EPA should not be allowed to go around Congress to adopt job-killing global warming regulations.”
Minnesota has a proud history as a liberal state. It has propelled to the national stage some of the most progressive politicians the U.S. has seen in the past half-century: Fritz Mondale, Paul Wellstone, Al Franken. Climate change is arguably the critical issue of our time. Yet the state — or at least Peterson’s district — disgraces itself by sending this destructive man to Washington.
Get Grist in your inbox