Peterson, One of Few Remaining Pro-Energy Democrats, Loses Seat in Minnesota
After nearly three decades in the House, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has lost his seat to Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach. Peterson, one of a dwindling number of Democrats representing rural districts, was a centrist, pro-energy legislator who seemed out of step with the national party’s increasingly radical environmentalist policies.
During his tenure in the House, Peterson’s main focus was support for farmers, but he also advanced regulatory reforms that benefited the energy industry.
In 2015, Peterson supported removing restrictions on crude oil exports, calling the export ban “outdated” and arguing that removing the ban would create jobs in many rural areas.
“Since these laws were last visited, nearly 40 years ago, U.S. oil production has increased significantly. The United States is now the world’s largest oil producer,” Peterson said in a floor speech.
“Studies have shown that lifting the current ban on crude oil exports would create jobs, many in rural areas. We have seen the benefits domestic drilling can provide in my neighboring state of North Dakota. We need to do everything we can to support the use and production of domestic energy.”
As chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Peterson long supported reform of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The WOTUS rule, which dramatically increased the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act, earned the ire of industry and farmers alike through its burdensome regulations.
He was one of a handful of Democrats to praise the Trump EPA for taking steps to unravel the WOTUS rule in 2017.
“I strongly support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. rule. I am hopeful this action will start the process of bringing much needed relief for farmers, ranchers, rural businesses and local governments,” said Peterson.
A self-proclaimed supporter of “all forms of energy,” Peterson favored both increased domestic oil and gas, and ethanol production. In 2017 he was an early joiner of the House Oil and Gas Caucus and met with industry groups to discuss ways of making energy more affordable. Peterson was not always a vote to support the oil and gas industry. He consistently pushed for Renewable Fuel Standards that boosted the demand for ethanol, passing legislation to stop the EPA from issuing biofuel blending waivers as recently as September 2020.
As production surged in the Bakken oil field, Peterson became involved in finding safer ways to transport the produced oil. He and other members of the Minnesota delegation wrote to federal regulators urging them to adopt stricter safety standards for hauling oil by rail in 2014. More recently, Peterson was a strong supporter of replacing Line 3, an aging oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The Line 3 replacement project has faced repeated challenges from environmentalists.
During his tenure, Peterson worked to balance land preservation with the needs of the agricultural industry. He supported the Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, which allows farmers to set aside acreage to establish wildlife habitats and protect watersheds, a program he enrolled land in himself. However, he pressured the Fish and Wildlife Service to end permanent conservation easements on wetlands and called the agency “totally out of control.”
However, he was a key vote in favor of the Waxman-Markey climate bill in 2009. After weeks of negotiations, Peterson struck a deal with then Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on the implementation of a carbon offset program for farmers. Peterson’s support helped the bill to pass the House, though it eventually stalled in the Senate.
This year Peterson faced a strong Republican challenger in Fischbach, who served previously as president of the Minnesota state senate, and through a constitutional fluke, lieutenant governor alongside Democrat Mark Dayton. The race attracted both national attention and unusually high donations in the runup to Election Day. Fischbach raised more than $2.2 million during this campaign cycle, roughly ten times the amount raised by the 2018 Republican challenger.