Friday, August 8, 2008

Drilling debate strikes oil in Minnesota farm country

The Republican Eagle - 08/05/2008

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — A southern Minnesota congressional challenger used a Tuesday farm forum to drill home his support for off-shore oil drilling.

Republican challenger Brian Davis in the 1st Congressional District, serving most of southern Minnesota, repeatedly told the FarmFest audience that opening waters off the country's coast to oil drilling would help lower farmers' energy costs. He talked about off-shore drilling when answering more than half of the farm leaders' questions at the forum.

His Republican opponent, Dick Day, also called for more drilling, but not as often as Davis.
Davis, a Mayo Clinic doctor, and state Sen. Day are locked in a Republican primary election battle. The winner of the September vote will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the November general election.

The forum came at FarmFest, an annual southwestern Minnesota gathering of farmers and agri-businessmen. Western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District and southern Minnesota's 1st district were the only ones in which all major candidates appeared.

While many speakers at FarmFest talk of saving the family farm, the often-blunt Day has his own assessment: "Whether you like it or not, the small family farm is gone."

Day and Davis were critical of new federal farm policy, but mostly because 70 percent of it has little to do with farming. Walz defended the bill.

"It made sure the safety net is there," Walz said.

However, Walz added, commodities such as crops probably could have fared better.
Day's big concern for federal farm policy is over-regulation.

"A fringe group" opposes farmers, he said, and that group should not control farm policy.
Energy was a major part of the forum discussion. Walz said he likes renewable energy standards recently put into law.

"They have done wonders," the first-term congressman said.

The standards help to encourage things like ethanol and wind power, both good for Minnesota, he said.

He also said he would accept ideas like off-shore drilling that Davis promoted. But, he added, it would only be if big oil companies did not overly profit.

Day joined Davis in calling for more oil drilling. He specifically said he supports more drilling in a controversial area of Alaska.

Davis said government regulations "messed up" the nuclear power industry. He did not specifically call for less federal regulation, but did encourage more nuclear power plants to be built.

Walz said 14 hearings he held on the farm bill shows his leadership ability.

Davis said he has traveled more than 50,000 in the southern Minnesota district, finding that more oil drilling and estate and capital gains taxes are hurting farmers.

Day promoted his time in the state Senate, where he has dealt with transportation and agriculture issues, and said he is fine with his status "a little outside the Republican Party."

Western Minnesota voters have a choice between a powerful U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman and a second-time challenger who thinks a recently enacted farm bill falls short.

Republican challenger Glen Menze said on Tuesday that the farm bill, which sets federal agriculture policy for years, did not have enough specific "risk management" provisions such as crop insurance for farmers. The omissions are especially hard on small farmers, he said.

However, he was in the minority of Democrats and Republicans who spoke at a FarmFest forum. Most other congressional candidates praised the farm bill.

Menze's opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, was a major author of the legislation as ag committee chairman. Peterson presented the farm bill as a compromise that treats Minnesota farmers well.

Steve Sarvi, a Democratic challenger in the 2nd Congressional District, said young people will remain in rural Minnesota if they have economic incentive, but added: "Rural communities need to be more than just farming." His Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. John Kline, did not attend FarmFest.