Peterson, Walz challenged at Farmfest on climate reform

Rep. Tim Walz
Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota's 1st Congressional District was challenged at Farmfest today over his support for climate reform and health care reform.
MPR file photo/Mark Zdechlik

Skeptical rural voters quizzed two Minnesota congressmen Tuesday over their support of climate change legislation.

Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz were questioned closely by attendees at the annual Farmfest expo, for supporting a House bill that some fear could hurt small farmers by making them pay for producing greenhouse gases.

Both men are members of the House Agriculture Committee.

Peterson, the chairman, said Tuesday he voted for the bill only because he knew it wouldn't become law immediately. He had urged support for the bill after winning a number of concessions that he said would benefit agriculture and ease the impact of higher energy costs on people living in rural areas.

"In spite of the fact that they gave me everything I wanted in agriculture ... it needs some more work," he said.

Walz argued that "cap-and-trade" provisions - limiting climate-changing pollution but also allowing polluters to buy and sell emission allowances - would create new jobs and growth in agriculture.

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Farmfest 2007
Thousands of farmers and ranchers from around the region gather at Farmfest, the annual agriculture trade show near Redwood Falls, which is taking place this week.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"This is a good idea, but it can't just be us that do it," said farmer Leonard Tellinghuisen, who grows corn and soybeans in Slayton, Minn. "Other countries pollute too, and I don't know how you talk to them."

A Department of Agriculture study last month suggested farmers would make more money than they will lose under the bill, based on farmers selling reductions they could make in greenhouse gases.

Most Farmfest attendees were skeptical. When the forum's moderator asked for a show of support for the bill, only a few people raised their hands.

The climate change bill is far from becoming law. It must also pass the U.S. Senate, which recesses this month, and would then go to a conference committee to resolve two different versions of the bill.

Both congressmen at the forum argued for health care changes without committing to any specific bill. One woman angered Walz when she compared health care reform to a "step toward communism."

"I didn't spend 24 years in the military to be called a Communist, I can tell you that," Walz fired back.

Both talked up ethanol and research for new renewable fuels. Walz said any national energy policy should include investment in coal and nuclear power.

Farmfest, which draws thousands of farmers and rural voters, is a traditional stop for statewide politicians and candidates.