The 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.