U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson voted for an energy bill last year that included concessions to agriculture on cap-and-trade cabon policy. He might not vote for the conference report this year.
"I voted to move the bill forward," Peterson, DFL-7th District, said Thursday in an interview. "If it would have been the final bill, I have problems with what they did on the cap and trade part of things, I would have voted no."
Republican-endorsed Lee Byberg of Willmar, as well as other Republicans, have been critical of Peterson's vote for the bill when it first won approval in the U.S. House. Opponents say it will raise a "tax" on utility providers and will greatly raise consumer prices for electricity.
Cap and trade is a way of reducing carbon emissions by creating a commodity out of carbon and trading it on the free market. Manufacturers which exceed government-set carbon emission limits buy credits from those whose emissions are less than the limits.
Provisions would be made to redistribute some of the revenues back into the economy, what opponents call carbon tax.
Last year, when the House was considering the measure, Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he had been negotiating for four weeks with Energy Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif, for concessions for agriculture, with farming creating carbon dioxide with inputs.
"We saw an opportunity to fix some problems we have in ethanol, primarily ... and we also got the precedence set that farmers will not be subject to cap and trade at all -- exempted," Peterson said of the concessions he won. "The other thing is, any involvement in terms of farmers, if any did get into this, they would be controlled by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and not by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)."
"I put all this on the table and negotiated with Waxman for four weeks and never got any place," Peterson said of requests he thought never would be accepted. "The environmentalists were fighting me; the EPA was fighting me."
In the end, Waxman was short of votes and Peterson said the Energy chairman came into his office and told Peterson he'd get all his requests. At that point, a congressman can't vote against a bill when he's given all he's asked for, Peterson said.
"That was the position I was in," he said. "It's the process, and you can criticize me, but I was doing what I was asked by agriculture and I think I did the right thing."
He doesn't believe cap and trade will pass the Senate, which would then drop it as a proposal, at least for the near future.
"I think cap and trade is the wrong way to approach things," Peterson said. "What it does is make carbon-based fuel more expensive. There's an easier way to do that. But for my district, that's a tough thing. We depend on coal, and what they would be doing is basically putting a tax on coal."
Peterson said he is meeting next week with Minnesota rural electric cooperatives.
"They understand what I did," he said. "They're supporting me. At the end of the day, I won't support a bill that's going to put the REAs out of business."
What is currently in House and Senate bills "is a huge problem for a district like this," he said. "There would have to be a lot of big, huge changes before I would support it."
Peterson said he knew when he voted for the bill the first time that it could become a campaign issue. He is seeking re-election to an 11th term this fall.
"If people are going to throw me out for one issue where I did my job ..." Peterson mused.
Republicans are also charging Peterson with flip-flopping on his vote for health care reform. He voted against the measure, but now won't support efforts to repeal health care reform.
"That's what you have to do -- it's the law," Peterson said about working now to implement the bill. "It's not going to be repealed. That's a waste of time."
Even if a repeal bill passed Congress, which is doubtful with Democratic majorities in each chamber, Peterson said it would be vetoed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
"There are parts of the bill that I support and needed to be done," Peterson said. "Why would I repeal that? Why would we repeal pre-existing conditions? Why would we repeal making companies selling insurance to everybody? Those are things that needed to be done."
The Republican idea to throw out the whole package because it's Obama's "is crazy," Peterson said.
He does not support the provision requiring mandatory individual health insurance. "There was a vote in the Congress to repeal the individual mandate and I supported it."
Peterson says his position "is that it's not realistic to repeal the whole thing -- it's not going to happen. ... Let's work on making the stuff that's good better, make the stuff that's bad go away."
Ninety-five percent of the process will be in how the rules are written, he said.
"I voted no because I thought, overall, the bill was not good for my district," the Democrat said. "But I'm not going to go off on some political agenda."