The U.S. Congress likely will not pass a bill as controversial as cap and trade during an election year, says Congressman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, but he warned folks attending the 53rd annual meeting of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., last week in Lubbock that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gas without a Congressional vote.

“EPA has a lot of resources,” said Conaway, who serves on the House Ag Committee.

He said the cap and trade bill that passed the senate would “add a burden to American manufacturing with no benefit to the atmosphere. We all want clean air and water but in a way that’s affordable. I don’t think that bill will pass the Senate and I don’t think a conference will reconcile.”

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Conaway responded to a report from National Cotton Council Chairman Eddie Smith, who said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently sat down with Council members for an open and “candid” discussion of these and other farm-related issues.

“I am glad to hear they listened to the National Cotton Council,” Conaway said. “Sometimes there is a disconnect in how things work outside the Beltway.”

He said one area of disconnect is the USDA “over-emphasis on organic farming and local production issues. Production agriculture needs to be the focus,” he said. “We need to hold them (USDA) accountable. We are not going to feed the world with organic farming.”

He said Congress will “ignore most of the (Obama Administration) budget the same way we did when President Bush sent one over.”

He did caution farmers that reconciliation measures could “include language that would affect the farm budget.”

He also encouraged farmers to begin thinking about positions they will take in the next farm bill debate. He said field hearings will be held later this spring. “The ag committee will go into the hinterlands to listen,” he said. One of those hearings is currently scheduled for Lubbock. “Schedules are tentative for now," Conaway said.

But he encouraged farmers to “stay tuned. An old adage goes ‘decisions are made by those who show up.’”

Conaway also commented on immigration reform, "a potentially inflammatory issue. Over the past few years we’ve just been screaming at each other. But it is in America’s best interest to know who comes into the country. We need to have conversations that are respectful, and that will require compromise.

“I will be surprised if any meaningful legislation on immigration gets done in an election year,” he said. “We need farm labor. We also need to consider the 14th amendment, the birth right issue. That was appropriate (at one time) but not now.”

Conaway also encouraged members of the audience to fill out and return census forms. “It is important,” he said

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com