LEXINGTON, Ill. — Questions relating to several high-priority legislative issues were posed to U.S. senatorial candidates at a recent candidate forum.
The Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable forum featured incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Republican challenger Kathy Salvi.
Here are Duckworth’s replies to the audience’s question read by Richard Guebert Jr., Illinois Farm Bureau president.
How are you going to balance the push for renewable energy standards such as wind and solar, with the production and the need to feed, fuel and cloth the world population?
Duckworth: I want us to dominate that conversation. I want to exploit the power of American agriculture to do that. I’m agnostic when it comes to how we get to a carbon neutral future, but if we’re going to have subsidies for wind and solar then we need to have subsidies and tax credits for biofuels, as well.
Let the marketplace do its magic and get us to carbon neutral. Set that carbon neutral date whenever that is and let’s get there.
I want us to own the technology and the production capacity to provide that to the rest of the world. That’s why I support carbon capture sequestration.
That’s why I support clean coal. I would rather sell American coal that’s cleaner to India rather than have the folks in India burning the much dirtier coal they have.
We can’t just be supporting wind and solar and not supporting biofuels. That’s not right because it leads to an imbalance in the system and we’re not going to get to carbon neutral faster.
For all the electric vehicles out there, they’re still being powered by dirty energy because they’re still plugging into a wall and that’s coming from a power station that is still burning oil and liquefied natural gas. So, let’s be clear that electric vehicles are great for emissions, but they’re not 100% clean.
The federal $1 per gallon blenders’ credit for biodiesel was extended for two years. Do you support a long-term extension of the blenders’ credit? Also, what will you do to carve out a place for biofuels in the future?
Duckworth: I do support a long-term extension of the blenders’ credit. You have to be able to plan out to be able to make your capital investment, and you’ve got to know some of these credits are going to be there long-term
It can’t just be, we’re going to renew it every two years. It has to be a long extension.
Even as we make investments in electric vehicles and batteries, biofuels are critically important to a carbon neutral future, not just in this country, but on a global scale.
Even if we transition away from combustion engines for vehicles in this country, other nations are still burning coal, they’ll still have regular vehicles, and I want us to be in a position where they’re buying their ethanol and their biofuels from the United States.
We are the No. 1 exporters of biofuels over the rest of the world. That market is going to be there for many, many decades to come.
Additionally, we’re going to grow other markets for biofuels in this country in places where electric batteries just aren’t going to work. Aviation is the way to go. We have to ramp up and get to a point where we can produce the aviation biofuels that industry needs at the quantities that they need.
That’s why in addition to supporting the fuel incentives and tax incentives in the bipartisan infrastructure law, I put in on my own a pilot program to develop aviation fuel within the Department of Defense budget.
What role will you play in getting more federal dollars for new 1,200-foot locks and dams on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers?
Duckworth: If I get reelected, this is one of my priorities. It’s one of the reasons I joined the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee because that’s where the money for infrastructure was coming from.
I chose to be on the Environment and Public Works Committee, specifically because I wanted to chair the Fisheries, Wildlife and Waters Subcommittee. So, I’m sort of trying to come at this problem from all angles, not just from ag.
You can be on the ag committee and work on the farm bill, but this allows me to work on all the infrastructure projects and I’m really proud that because I can pressure the Army Corps of Engineers, because I can push from the transportation committee, because I can push from public works committee.
The Corps of Engineers just announced $1.3 billion in investments starting in 2022. Of that, about $723 million is for a 1,200-foot lock for Lock and Dam 25.
What are your thoughts on encouraging the administration to get a lot more aggressive on trade deals?
Duckworth: We have to be a lot more aggressive on trade and I am supportive of looking at reversing some of the previous administration’s negative action when it comes to tariffs on trade.
Our commodities are wanted and in demand around the world and even in China. We have to trade with China.
China is a greatest near-peer competitor. They want to be the leader of the world order, but their future world order is an authoritarian one, not a democratic one, it’s not a free one. Everyone does everything the way the People’s Republic of China want you to do it or you get cutoff.
As an example, Taiwan was trying to buy the COVID vaccine from American companies and in the middle of a global pandemic, the PRC told all the countries that were making vaccines that if they sold their vaccines to Taiwan, they won’t do trade with them.
So, Taiwan was basically blocked off from the vaccine, which is why I went to President Biden and said we have to send some vaccines to Taiwan just to show we support them.
So, Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Marine colonel from Alaska, and I flew in a giant aircraft to deliver vaccines to Taiwan to break the blockade. It created a whole uproar, the Chinese launched like 17 sorties into Taiwan Straits.
We have to trade with China. That is important because they’re a major market for us. By the way, their people want our products.
They don’t trust the commodities that are locally grown. They don’t trust the quality of the food that’s locally grown.
I’ve traveled to Vietnam and other places that buy DDGs from other places and they say the feed they get from other places half of the time is fortified with antifreeze to make it look like it has a higher protein level. Consumers there want to buy American-grown foodstuffs because they know of the quality.
What would you do to lessen the impact of over-regulations, particularly when it comes to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Waters of the U.S. and the Internal Revenue Service?
Duckworth: This is why I wanted to be on the Environment and Public Works Committee, in addition to the infrastructure work, is to be a voice within the EPA committee to talk in a reasonable way what we need to do.
Truth in advertising, I got like an A-plus rating with League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, all of the major environmental groups. I have a great rating with them.
That allows me to come in and say, what you guys are supporting doesn’t make sense on the ground.
I try to be that moderate voice within these organizations and also in my conversations with EPA to say what you are doing is going to keep farmers from doing their jobs, and do you really think that they want to poison their own water?
Half of them are using well water for their own homes. If they poison the ground, they’re poisoning their own water. They’re not going to do that.
So, we have to have some level of trust and we have to have some level of understanding of what we need to do to be competitive to grow and produce at the levels we need to produce, but at the same time, yes, we want to protect the environment.
I think some of the ways forward is really going to be looking at precision agriculture, allowing you to be much more precise in where you need to add nutrients and some of those issues.
There needs to be a pragmatic approach to it. I do think the EPA does tend to get taken over by the far left of my own party, and I sort of see myself in there saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s be real here.
You’re talking about something as if it was a river or a creek, but it’s actually a dry area most of the year and occasionally when it rains there’s water there. So, let’s not treat that like everything else.
This is where your institutional knowledge has helped guide me in past WOTUS negotiations and will be there for me, as well, as we move forward.