Blanche Lincoln

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.