Peterson, Westrom talk EPA, renewable fuels

GILFILLAN ESTATE – Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson and his Republican challenger Torrey Westrom faced off in their first debate at Farmfest Wednesday. The 7th District candidates were part of a forum on agricultural and rural issues that also included candidates from the 1st, 2nd and 6th districts. Candidates addressed topics ranging from the EPA (Environmental Pollution Agency) and the Keystone Pipeline to renewable fuels and livestock antibiotics.

Peterson was not shy about touting his work as the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee and his experience with farmer-friendly legislation, while Westrom tried to relate to the crowd by talking about his experience of growing up on a dairy farm.

“We need someone in Washington that will tell the great story of the American farmer,” Westrom said.

Farm familiarity is key in the 7th district, which covers most of western Minnesota, as it is one of the largest agriculture producing districts in the nation.

Both candidates expressed concern over the EPA’s new water regulations, citing that expanding the EPA’s jurisdiction could hurt farmers.

“The issue of agencies and their non-responsiveness to farmers is part of the reason I am running for Congress,” Westrom said.

Both candidates also agreed that a solution to the accessibility of railroad cars is needed soon so farmers can get their grain to market. They agreed that a solution could include building pipelines to free up freight trains for agricultural use.

“The Keystone Pipeline needs to be built, and it should have been built last year,” Westrom said to an applauding crowd.

Peterson mentioned a pipeline planned in northern Minnesota that he said “is probably more important. But I support all pipelines.” His comments were also followed by another round of applause.

Another issue addressed was the use of antibiotics for livestock, which both candidates were against regulating, saying the farmers and veterinarians should be left to make those decisions.

“If you take antibiotics out… what are you going to do when the animals get sick?” Peterson asked. “You’re going to use 10 times more antibiotics.”

The recent farm bill debacle was also brought up, but Peterson urged voters to keep him in office as he serves on the Ag Committee and has been known for working with house members across the aisle.

“In order to keep having a farm bill in the future,” Peterson said, “we have to maintain bipartisanship on the Ag Committee.”

Peterson also mentioned the attempt to strip the farm bill of subsidies like food stamps, saying if that were to happen, “there wouldn’t be a farm bill. The folks who want to do that don’t want to cut food stamps, they want to get rid of our programs.”

Even though there was a struggle to pass the most recent farm bill, Peterson restated the importance of having bipartisanship in government and on the Ag Committee, saying in his closing comments that “if everybody operated like the Ag Committee, we wouldn’t have the problems we have in this country.”