O'Malley pledges to fight mergers, Webb backs Keystone as Democrats stump Iowa

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



DES MOINES, Iowa, Aug. 13, 2015 - Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley promised to fight agricultural mergers if he's elected president, and also touted his efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which has agricultural runoff issues similar to those facing Midwest states.

O'Malley was one of two long-shot Democratic candidates who spoke at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday. The other was former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who cast himself as a more centrist alternative.

O'Malley, who lists tougher antitrust enforcement among his 15 policy goals, told reporters that the consolidation of meatpackers and agribusiness firms is “putting the screws to farmers and agricultural communities.”

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“We need to restore the guidance of fair competition in our antitrust policies,” he said. He didn't cite any specific mergers he would have opposed. 

The cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay is being closed watched by farmers in Iowa and elsewhere because of the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to impose pollutions limits, or a Total Maximum Daily Load. Maryland and other states surrounding the bay are implementing plans to comply with the limits.

O'Malley said his state's efforts included implementing best management practices on farms and an increase in the planting of cover crops. “During my eight years we actually reduced the flow of sediment by 17 percent, nitrogen by 15 percent and phosphorus by 12 percent into the Chesapeake Bay.”

The 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals recently upheld the limits, turning aside the argument by the American Farm Bureau Federation that the agency had exceeded its authority.

O'Malley and Webb differ sharply in overall approach - especially on energy policy. 

When Webb was asked which president he most admired, he first came up with Franklin Roosevelt, a standard choice for a Democrat, but also cited Ronald Reagan, under whom Webb served as secretary of the Navy.

Webb endorsed building the Keystone XL pipeline and said he supports “all of the options” on energy policy, a phrase that typically includes fossil fuels as well as biofuels and renewable power.

“I support renewable energy, and I think Iowa is a perfect example of where it can work,” he said.

He suggested the Keystone pipeline, which would transport shale oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, would be better for the environment than hauling oil by train, a reference to accidents caused by trains carrying North Dakota crude. “On balance I think it's good, it's good for jobs,” he said of Keystone.

O'Malley agrees with Webb on renewable energy, but has also called for a “100 percent clean-energy” electric grid for the United States by 2050. The power sources would include next-generation nuclear power, wind and solar energy, as well as yet-to-be-developed “technologies we've never heard of,” O'Malley said.

Both Webb and O'Malley are trailing badly in the Iowa polls released this week. Each was supported by just 1 percent of Iowa Democrats in a CNN-ORC International poll -far behind Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and even Vice President Joe Biden, who isn't running yet. 

A survey by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling had O'Malley at 7 percent and Webb at 3 percent. 

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