Can the Senate successfully take up both climate and immigration reform this year? During today's OnPoint, Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Agriculture, weighs in on the Senate's stalemate on climate legislation and addresses efforts in Congress to block U.S. EPA from regulating emissions. Rep. Lucas also gives his take on EPA's push to implement a zero-drift standard for pesticides.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Congressman Frank Lucas, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Agriculture. Congressman Lucas, thanks for coming on the show.
Rep. Frank Lucas: It's a pleasure to be with you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, over on the other side of the Hill your colleagues in the Senate are facing an uphill battle on climate change. Earlier this week talks between senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman were derailed just as new legislation was about to be introduced. The House successfully passed a cap and trade last year, last June. What's your take on the political wrangling that we see happening in the Senate on climate?
Rep. Frank Lucas: Well, the gyrations on the Senate side, of course, is still a carryover, I think, from the national health-care vote of earlier this season. The challenge is that both sides have in trying to put anything bipartisan together are really there and not only is it that, Monica, but we really have a short legislative season between now and the third week in July when we'll basically go home for August and, I suspect, not be back in any real consequence until December. So, can they put something together? I don't know. I hope it won't look like the House version of the bill, which I and my fellow Republicans did not vote for, but where they go that's the struggle they have in the Senate.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you think that bipartisanship can exist on an issue like climate change?
Rep. Frank Lucas: I think bipartisanship can and should exist on all issues and that's the key, is use the regular legislative process, subcommittee, full committee, the other body, conference committees to work out differences. But when you look at the House version of the bill, where, in essence, the version that passed last summer, where you give the federal government the control or the ability to generate quotas and trade standards and raise taxes, that's kind of a strain on agriculture and that's kind of a strain on the traditional production of energy in this country. That's why I couldn't support the bill last year in the House, in the floor of the House.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the short legislative calendar and one of the key reasons behind the stalled talks in the Senate is this idea of bringing up immigration reform this year. I know this is one of your key issues. Do you think it should be brought up this year considering the short window of time that we have?
Rep. Frank Lucas: Well, that's something I suppose that has to be decided in the Senate. Clearly, Majority Leader Reid, and I'm looking across the building, it's not my body Monica, clearly, something that he puts on a high priority. But by the same token, Senator Graham has said either we do climate change first or we don't do anything. I think that's a pretty strong statement from one of the people who have been the most involved in the climate change process. But remember, this is a dramatic bill. Whatever happens, whether it's the House version or the Senate version, we give the federal government the control, the ability to set quotas by regions, by industry, and we potentially have dramatic taxes on the production of both electricity and oil or gasoline and diesel. So, this is going to affect the economy, both rural and urban.
Monica Trauzzi: And the other option that's on the table is, of course, EPA regulation.
Rep. Frank Lucas: Yes, yes.
Monica Trauzzi: And you were part of the effort in the house to essentially veto the EPA endangerment finding and stop EPA from regulating. Does something like that have legs? I mean there's a similar effort in the Senate. Could it work?
Rep. Frank Lucas: It's a highly charged environment out in the countryside, Monica, right now and I think if we can compel both the House and the Senate to vote on this issue…now, I know the president would have to sign such a resolution and since it's the president's political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency who have decided to pursue this course, having the president's willingness to sign is most unlikely. But we need to put members online. Why should a federal agency have the power to do something that, in my opinion, should be done by the legislative bodies, mandated by a court case that really should not have perhaps been pursued in the first place in the fashion it was? I think this resolution and disallowment will send a signal to the EPA and the White House, back off, calm down, apply sound science, follow the rule of law and let the legislative bodies move the agenda in this country, not the bureaucracy.
Monica Trauzzi: So, you're not in favor of what passed through the House, not in favor of EPA regulation. How should commissions than be regulated?
Rep. Frank Lucas: I think it needs to be a carrot approach and not a stick. We have a classic example in the use of wind energy as a part of our electrical power sources in this country using positive incentives to encourage people to move in the right direction. I think that's the direction we go and I would also say I think that the American people need to understand if you take the approach that the House took and that is giving the federal government the ability to set up a quota system for emissions, giving the federal government the ability to set up a trade system by which some will win and some will lose, and dramatically increasing the taxes on the consumption of energy to drive down emissions, that's where the $700 billion in new revenue in the president's budget comes from, the taxes on electricity, gasoline, and diesel. We've got to have a positive incentive. Let's drive people towards making the investments to reduce their emissions, not using the baseball bat of government regulations and tax to force them to change their style.
Monica Trauzzi: What are the impacts on industry and farmers though if we don't see some type of certainty on regulation?
Rep. Frank Lucas: Well, Monica, I would wholeheartedly agree with you that the EPA has overstepped its bounds, in my opinion, and I think they need to be reined in. But by the same token, if you take the tack that the House bill took you're going to dramatically increase the cost of production agriculture. I mean we are energy intensive in every way, from preparations of soil, the seeds, the harvesting, the processing, the delivery, the power to keep the coolers running in the supermarkets so to speak. We'll pay a higher price and the way the House bill was put together our foreign competitors will not and it will put us at a disadvantage and it will cost the consumer and it will cost the producer. So, the bottom line is this is not the way to go. Let's start over. Let's figure out how we can use the carrot approach, positive incentives to drive people to make rational changes.
Monica Trauzzi: I want to switch gears for a moment away from climate and discuss another issue that you've been working on. EPA is seeking to address pesticide drift.
Rep. Frank Lucas: Oh, yes.
Monica Trauzzi: And there's been discussion about implementing a zero drift standard. Would these changes expand protections for farmers and their families?
Rep. Frank Lucas: I think the question comes down to would sound science actually be served by using a no drift standard? If you talk to people in the industry, people out in the field, people who use these technologies and have used them successfully for decades, they'll tell you that a no drift standard is virtually impossible to achieve. My concern is, and I think a number of folks out in the real world is that the standard is not so much set to try and protect people or animals or plants, but maybe to make the rule more enforceable. Now, that's not what we should be trying to do here is create rules that make it easier for the enforcers to enforce them. We should be creating rules that apply sound science. You can take one step from here over to the atrazine issue, a relabeling issue where the EPA went through the process concluding in 2006 of relabeling this product, again, for a period of time. Now, the EPA is announcing that they need to do more studies; they need to step back through and reassess the situation. You have to wonder, perhaps Monica, if it's more of a political agenda perhaps than a science agenda and if that's the case, I can't say with certainty, if that's the case, then that's unfortunate.
Monica Trauzzi: So, should pesticide drift be addressed, but just not through the zero drift approach?
Rep. Frank Lucas: It has to be addressed through a rational process. Zero drift is creating a standard that's unattainable. We've got to do things in a way that are scientifically sound and logical in implementation.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we're going to end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Rep. Frank Lucas: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see back here tomorrow.
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