Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln presided over her first Senate Agriculture Committee hearing as chairman on Sept. 30. Having taken over the chairmanship several weeks earlier (for more, see http://deltafarmpress.com/legislative/senate-ag-committee-0910/index.html), Lincoln spoke with Delta Farm Press shortly after the hearing. Among her remarks:

How did it feel to pick up the gavel for the first time today?

“It felt pretty good. I was extremely proud and certainly humbled to have the confidence of my colleagues. We're going to do a good job, work hard and work closely with folks in rural America and agricultural production and remind the American people what a great job they do.”

What about cap and trade? Are you planning more hearings? Where does that stand?

“We probably will have a few more hearings. After the first two hearings — and before I was chairman — I felt there was a need for more. And now as chairman, I definitely feel we need a couple more. There's an opportunity to help improve the bill.

“Today has been a crazy day — hearings in the ag committee and also the non-stop healthcare markup along with votes on the floor — so I haven't had a chance dig into the (Kerry/Boxer) bill that was introduced today. But I feel they'll give us an opportunity to markup a piece of our own in terms of an ag title.”

What are the chances of cap and trade passing this year? Or, as we're hearing in back channels, that it'll be pushed off until at least next year?

“Our plate is awfully full. If we're going to get it right, we need to make sure to take our time, work hard and get it right.

“That isn't just for climate change (legislation) but also healthcare reform, financial regulatory reform, child nutrition and all the other things on our plate.

“I don't think it's a secret that the House-passed climate change bill can't pass the Senate.

“Again, I haven't seen (chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Barbara) Boxer's (climate change) bill. I called her a couple of days ago to see if we could get some language from it. She was traveling. So, we weren't able to look at it. When we do it will be thorough and see how we can add to it in terms of improvements for agriculture and make sure it's acceptable. Without that, it certainly won't be acceptable to me.

“We can certainly curb greenhouse gas emissions by moving forward on legislation that focuses on renewable energy, conservation, energy efficiency. But, quite frankly, we've already done that — the Senate Energy Committee produced a tremendously good, bipartisan bill. If people want to shorten the distance we've got run, they'd look at that bill and partner it with a companion tax incentive bill that I think could be very productive.”

What about implementation of the last farm bill? What still needs to be done and are you satisfied with the progress so far?

“There are still things we'll make sure to follow through on. That's always the case. After the long negotiations we had in the farm bill to get to 80-plus votes in the Senate — which is virtually unheard of — we want to make sure the agreements and intentions we had are clearly implemented by the (Obama) administration.”

Are you satisfied with the way USDA is interpreting the payment limit rules?

“At this juncture, it appears they'll implement the payment limitations pretty much as presented. I believe there was some issue they had with ‘actively engaged’ farmers — what the definition is. Again, we'll try and make sure (what USDA does) is consistent with what we did in the bill.”