There was a deluge of calls, e-mails and faxes, but in the end congressmen representing southern Minnesota split along party lines just like those from pretty much everywhere else across the nation.
The Democrats voted for it, the Republican against. And the Democrats focused on the environmental benefits and economic opportunities that could come from making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy while Republicans warned of devastating increases in energy prices and stagnation for the American economy.
“This vote for me is about looking the kindergartners at Jefferson Elementary in Mankato, the ninth-graders at Rochester Century High School, and the kids of all ages in the eye and telling them we did what we could to give them a better, cleaner, safer future,” said Congressman Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, in a statement.
Walz announced Thursday he would support the bill, not long after fellow Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson reached agreement with House leaders on protections for farmers and other residents of rural America. Walz’s announcement came shortly before a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who was working on behalf of President Obama to shore up support among Democrats from farm states and conservative-leaning districts.
That meeting, Walz said, dealt more havily with other issues — transportation, the dairy and pork markets, and health care — because the half-dozen or so congressmen had already decided to support the climate-energy bill.
Walz also focused on the potential economic opportunities that renewable energy could bring to southern Minnesota, specifically mentioning Minnesota State University’s research programs, and the wind and biofuels production in the region.
“This is a win for ag and energy producers and for consumers,” Walz said.
Rep. John Kline, a Lakeville Republican whose district includes all of Le Sueur County, could hardly have disagreed more in a statement released Friday afternoon.
“I am opposing this irresponsible proposal because it will drive up the price of everyday goods, strain the economy, reduce jobs, and impose a significant cost increase on every American who dares to turn on a light,” Kline said.
The conflicting views were reflected in a wave of contacts from constituents in southern Minnesota and callers from elsewhere in the country in the past few days, said Meredith Salsbery, communications director for Walz.
“We literally cannot answer the phones fast enough,” Salsbery said Friday while the debate on the House floor continued. “They seem to be pretty balanced, for and against.”
Peterson, who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and whose district includes Sibley County, played a crucial role in constructing the final bill as he opposed earlier versions until changes were negotiated to provisions affecting farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land. Peterson’s statement on Tuesday that the amended bill now “works for agriculture” was key to persuading some rural members of Congress to support it.
After the House vote on Friday, Walz said the changes negotiated by Peterson were vital to his support for the bill.
The measure still must clear the Senate, and Walz said that while it’s possible the Senate version will be unacceptable tohim and other rural legislators, Emanuel and another key White House official, David Axelrod, had indicated that the Senate would move with the House.