Tobacco buyout issue may influence election

Last year, folks were saying that if a tobacco quota buyout was going to happen it would have to happen then. Last year turned into 2004 and the stakes became higher.

It seems the tobacco buyout issue is playing a role in the race for the U.S. Senate to replace John Edwards of North Carolina.

Richard Burr, a Republican U.S. representative from North Carolina is facing Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who was Chief of Staff in the Clinton Administration. The tobacco buyout issue has been a prominent feature of talks leading up to the election later this year.

In the House and Senate, bills have been introduced that would link Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products. Some have said that the FDA authority would be necessary in order to pass a tobacco buyout bill. It's been an area of heated debate among cigarette manufacturers. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have been at odds over the FDA issue.

In the U.S. Senate, Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would give FDA authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products. In the House, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation that would give FDA authority over cigarettes and tobacco products.

In the House, tobacco-state legislators included tobacco reform legislation in an update version of a bill introduced by Reps. Bill Jenkins (R-Tenn.) and Mike McIntrye (D-N.C.) and co-sponsored by a group of 40 members of Congress. The reform package provides growers and quota holders with $9.6 billion in compensation over five years. It would also end the depression-ear program and introduce free market reforms.

It's still the hope of growers and quota owners alike that Congress will pass a buyout. They're running out of quota.

Elsewhere in the political realm, a story of opposition to the Navy's plan to build an outlying land field on 30,000 acres in eastern North Carolina is notable for its success.

Farmers and residents joined with groups such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society to fight the proposed $186.5 million project, which would provide the Navy with a military landing field about halfway between Cherry Point, N.C., and southeast Virginia. The opponents of the project cite its proximity to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and claimed that the Navy failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the proposal.

Earlier this year, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Navy from directly or indirectly taking any further action to build the proposed land field in North Carolina.

In addition, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley's office and the Navy agreed to form a 17- member group to study the proposal.

There are a number of issues at play, including a state whose economy relies heavily on its military bases.

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