ACES: Tom Harkin, D-IA, corn yes, drill no!

Cross-posted from Daily Kos and Congress Matters.

Tom Harkin is one of the more liberal Democrats in the Senate.  Up until very recently, he was in a powerful position to affect the Senate version of ACES, as chairman of the Agriculture committee, but that role is now held by Blanche Lincoln (D-Walmart).  Healthcare's gain is ACES's loss. However, Harkin is still a member of the committee, and hopefully wields some influence. (See [http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-vine/blanche-lincoln-ag-chair-say-it-aint-so this] for the chairmanship changeover.)

Harkin was in a position to keep Collin Peterson's additions to the bill (remember the House Ag guy who held the bill up for more breaks for farmers?).  He *is* a farm state Senator, supporting farm interests, including a strong emphasis on biofuels from corn and soy. However, he has a history of strongly supporting renewable energy, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of biochar to sequester carbon.

 

This diary is part of the Adopt-A-Senator for Aces project that is one of the eco advocacy campaigns of DK GreenRoots. We are tracking Senators to determine their positions on climate change legislation so we can focus on key issues that might influence their votes. [http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/ Meteor Blades] and [http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/8/18/202921/271 RL Miller] discuss this project in more detail.

Most of the information I have on his energy positions comes from a site called ontheissues.org.  [http://senate.ontheissues.org/International/Tom_Harkin_Energy_+_Oil.htm This] is the link to their page titled “Tom Harkin on Energy & Oil”. 

_Ethanol and farm practices_
Unsurprisingly, Harkin supports ethanol as vehicle fuel. His campaign website supported conversion of the nation's vehicle fleet to flexfuel.  In part this is for the sake of the Iowa farm vote, and in part this is because he does have a goal of energy independence. Unfortunately, corn ethanol is not climate friendly.  It doesn't have much energy advantage, and recent studies, like [http://www.grist.org/article/2009-05-05-epa-ethanol-biofuel this] article describes, indicate it can increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Representative Collin Peterson's amendments to the House version of ACES, described [http://www.grist.org/article/2009-06-22-colin-peterson-villain here], are supported by Harkin.  They include boosting ethanol, giving a break to farm-state coal power plants, and claiming existing agricultural practices as carbon offsets. This last is a problem because it does not increase retention of carbon from our current baseline, and carbon can be released pretty quickly from no-till fields if somebody starts tilling them again.  However, as described below, Harkin is a biochar supporter, and this could lead to real carbon offsets, and savings for farmers as well.

General energy and environment related votes
Tom Harkin has voted several times against oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.  In 2005 he voted yes on an amendment to the Energy Policy Act which sought to reduce oil usage 40% by 2025. In 2008 he voted yes on addressing CO2 emissions without considering India and China. In 2007 he voted for an amendment by Sen. Kerry to factor global warming into federal project planning. He supported preserving and strengthening CAFE standards. In 2007 he cosponsorted a resolution setting a goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025.

Harkin is also a Labor supporter; it is one of the issues highlighted on his [http://harkin.senate.gov/issue/labor.cfm website], and he brags about being one of the original cosponsors of EFCA.  He would thus be open to persuasion from the Blue-Green Alliance.

Biochar
Biochar is carbonized biological material (ag waste, yard waste, etc) which can be used as a valuable soil amendment. Basically it's a mineralized form of carbon; it still has the biological structure that makes it good habitat for beneficial soil microorganisms, but it lasts much longer than biochemical carbon in the soil, centuries or even millenia.  Also improves soil structure, also helps retain fertilizer compounds. 

There's some evidence that the increased microorganism population it encourages actually can remove carbon from carbon-rich boreal forest soils, but it is definitely a good fit for tropical soils, and for temperate soils too.[http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/11/135456/589 This] diary by A Siegel gives useful links; [http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar this] site also has a wealth of information.

Tom Harkin has taken an interest in the use of biochar to sequester carbon (and to improve soil and reduce fertilizer needs for farmers).  There were several cites when I did a search, including [http://www.grist.org/article/2009-08-13-ag-boosters-tout-biochar-as-offset-enhancer/ this] article from Grist, and [http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/11/135456/589 this] diary from A Siegel. See also [http://www.biorenew.iastate.edu/research/thermochemicals/environmental-enhancement-through-corn-stover-utilization.html this] study underway by Iowa State University on producing fertilizer and biochar from corn stover. This would be one legitimate way for Iowa farmers to get carbon offset credit income.

Summary
In summary, Tom Harkin believes in global warming, and should be on board for a bill to combat it.  He does have some ag-state bees in his bonnet, and will push to keep the Peterson changes in the final bill.  As I said in the intro, however, healthcare's gain came at a price when Harkin left the chairmanship of the Ag committee.

Research resources (thanks to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse!)

Resources for AAS Project: You  really need to just surf out the sites that are filled with good information!

Legislation
[http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h2454/show H.R.2454 – American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009]

Votes, Committees, and Background

[http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/ The Washington Post's Votes Database] provides roles in Congress, key votes, missed votes, voting with party and against party, latest votes and financial disclosure.

[http://www.opencongress.org/people/senators Open Congress] page for Senators. 

[http://www.progressivepunch.org/ ProgressivePunch]

[http://www.govtrack.us/congress/findyourreps.xpd GovTrack]: Provides information on bill sponsorship, voting record, money & influence,  and committee membership. Here is [http://www.govtrack.us/congress/person.xpd?id=300051 Harkin's] page.

[http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SourceWatch SourceWatch] and [http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Tom_Harkin Harkin's] page.

[http://www.votesmart.org/index.htm Project Vote Smart]:  [http://www.votesmart.org/bio.php?can_id=53294 Harkin's] page.

Fundraising & Donors

[http://www.opensecrets.org/ OpenSecrets]

[http://www.fec.gov/finance/disclosure/srssea.shtml FEC – Search Campaign Finance Summary Data]

[http://www.politicalpartytime.org/ Sunlight Foundation's Party Time]

[http://maplight.org/ MapLight] shows the supporters and opponents, votes, list of contributions within 3 days of vote on bill, timeline of contributions, committees, history and status, and news for ACES and has a search engine for legislators.

General or Multiple Information Sites: Just do site search with lawmaker's name.

[http://www.taxpayers.org/ Taxpayers for Common Sense] covers earmarks and campaign contributions.

[http://foreignlobbying.com/ Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker] allows searches by legislators to find out efforts by foreign governments and organizations to influence U.S. policy.

[http://lcv.org/ League of Conservation Voters]

[http://lcv.org/ 1sky]

[http://www.senate.gov/ Senate Web Site]

[http://www.grist.org/ grist]

[http://solveclimate.com/ solveclimate]

[http://www.hillheat.com/ Hill Heat]

  • good to see you here, RunawayRose!

    Thanks for cross-posting.

    To embed links here, you need to switch from “WYSIWYG” to “AUTO-FORMAT” before pasting the text into a new diary here. Even then, I’m not sure it will work to use the square brackets for embedding–I use that code with a href= in it.  

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