In a recent blog, I explained how the Environmental Protection Agency is hybridizing disparate provisions of the Clean Air Act in order to engineer greater regulatory authority for itself. EPA is using these “Franken-regs” to trump the states’ rightful authority on visibility improvement policy and impose billions of dollars of emissions controls for benefits that are literally invisible.

Yesterday, for example, EPA relied on this hybrid authority to impose a federal regulatory plan on Oklahoma over the Sooner State’s objection. (A copy of the federal register notice is available here). In February, Oklahoma submitted a visibility improvement plan that would require fuel switching from coal to natural gas at six power plants by 2022, but EPA rejected this approach in March. In its stead, EPA proposed a federal plan that would require almost $2 billion in emissions controls, in addition to fuel switching. EPA’s proposed plan was finalized yesterday.

Although the Clean Air Act clearly gives states primacy over EPA in decision-making for visibility improvement, Oklahoma is one of three states subject to a federal plan. In August, EPA imposed a plan on New Mexico that costs $740 million more than the state’s plan. In September, EPA proposed a federal plan for North Dakota. All three states are challenging EPA in federal court.

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Last week Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) became chairman of the Agriculture Committee, after Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the previous chair, accepted the gavel at the Health, Labor, Education and Pension Committee (vacated by the passing of Ted Kennedy).

Lincoln becomes the first female to chair this powerful committee, and her ascension to the top-spot will have a big impact on the country’s energy policy.

For almost a decade, the Senate Ag Committee has been the primary benefactor of ethanol, a fuel made from corn. Regardless whether the Ag chair was a Republican or a Democrat, the Committee, which is dominated by corn-belt politicians, showered ethanol with subsidies and give-aways-and even a Soviet-style production quota that forces consumers to use it. Government support for ethanol has been great for corn growers (they’ve seen demand increase by almost 50% since 2005), but it’s awful for livestock farmers, who have seen the cost of corn-feed skyrocket. Consumers have also been harmed, as the price of corn derivatives (meat, dairy, soda, etc., etc.,) has increased so sharply that inflation of the cost of food doubled the historical rate in 2008.

With Lincoln taking the gavel of the Ag Committee, however, the ethanol gravy train might be coming to an end. That’s because Lincoln doesn’t represent the corn-belt. To be sure, they grow corn in Arkansas, primarily in the eastern part of the state. But in western Arkansas, farmers raise chickens. In fact, the Natural State is the nation’s #2 producer of broiler chickens. America’s ethanol policy has seriously compromised the chicken industry, so we can expect Lincoln to take a more conservative approach with fuels made out of food.

Lincoln is also likely to affect the climate debate. The Ag Committee has some jurisdiction over climate change legislation, and Lincoln’s vote on cap-and-trade is a priority for her caucus leadership, which is having a tough time finding support for a climate bill among Senate Democrats. But Arkansas politics are decidedly unfavorable to global warming alarmism. Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Arkansas), who represents Little Rock and much of Pulaski County, was the only member of his State’s delegation to vote for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, cap-and-trade legislation that passed through the House of Representatives in late June, and he has been hammered over the airwaves by utilities, agriculture interests, and political opponents ever since. Now, there is considerable speculation that his seat is in jeopardy-all thanks to his vote for a cap-and-trade. No doubt Lincoln has noticed Snyder’s plight.