U.S. House farm chief opposes climate-change bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is unfair to the ethanol industry with its proposals on greenhouse gas reduction, the House Agriculture Committee chairman said on Wednesday, and he will not support any climate-change bills.

The gas cap of a car that can run on either gasoline or ethanol is pictured at a showroom in Rio de Janeiro April 30, 2008. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

“You’re going to kill off the biofuels industry before it even gets started. You are in bed with the oil industry,” Collin Peterson told officials from the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency at a hearing on ethanol’s impact on land use and greenhouse gases.

“I want this message sent back down the street. I will not support any climate-change bill. I don’t trust anybody anymore,” said the Democrat from Minnesota.

A leader among fiscally conservative Democrats, Peterson is the first committee chairman to declare opposition to climate-change legislation, an administration priority. He said he spoke to White House senior advisor Pete Rouse earlier on Wednesday about his dissatisfaction with the treatment of ethanol and concerns that a climate-change bill would hurt agriculture.

The administration issued a draft rule on Tuesday aiming to cut greenhouse gasses associated with biofuels by making production of corn-based ethanol more efficient and increasing production of advanced biofuels.

Corn ethanol has been criticized for contributing to higher food prices and indirectly causing greenhouse gas emissions by forcing forests and other lands to be burned abroad to create farmland.

Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has a goal of sending a climate-change bill to the House floor by the end of May. It is not clear if there is enough support to pass a climate bill. Peterson said he would oppose Waxman’s bill.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says climate-change bills could mean money for farmers who plant crops or use tillage methods that lock carbon in the soil. Skeptics fear higher fuel, fertilizer and pesticide prices.

Peterson said officials disregard congressional directions, so there was no point in seeking a legislative correction to flaws in the so-called Renewable Fuel Standard.

“This thing is out of control,” he said. “I’ve had it.”

During the hearing, Peterson and other members of the Agriculture Committee said the 2007 law that boosted U.S. commitment to biofuels is flawed.

It wrongly excludes “a majority of the country’s woody biomass” from being counted as a feedstock, said Rep. Tim Holden of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said the 2007 law would limit planting of switchgrass, often cited as a successor to corn (maize) in making ethanol.

Two recent studies suggest around 9 million acres (22 million ha) of additional land will be needed if U.S. ethanol output expands by 13.25 billion gallons (51 billion liters), said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber, less than half the new-crop area projected in a 2008 analysis.

“There is little question that increased biofuel production will have effects on land use in the United States and the rest of the world. The more interesting question concerns magnitude,” said Glauber, who pointed to uncertainties of yields on converted land, whether grasslands or forests would be converted and how widely distillers dried grains, a co-product of ethanol, would replace corn in livestock feed.

Editing by Christian Wiessner