Energy Emissions and Agriculture

As H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is deliberated in Congress, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other farm-industry leaders are promoting the inclusion of agriculture offsets in its provisions.

The legislation, also known as the “climate change bill” and the “Waxman bill,” on behalf of Democratic Chairman Henry Waxman, seeks an 80-percent reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions from the atmosphere by 2050. The bill accomplishes this using a cap-and-trade system with government-issued pollution allowances, or permits, to businesses that are tradable in the open market.

However, the bill has neglected to consider offsets specific to the farm industry.

“Energy companies, oil refineries, wildlife advocates, etc., all receive something in this bill,” said Rick Krause, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) senior director of congressional relations. “It seems like the only industry that was not addressed in this bill was agriculture."

Opponents cite elevated production costs that will incur as a result of increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs, as validation for some type of agricultural-offsets program.

"A viable carbon offsets market – one that rewards farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for stewardship activities – has the potential to play a very important role in helping America address climate change while also providing a possible new source of revenue for landowners," said Vilsack.

Producers will be taxed for surpassing allotted emissions standards and rewarded with carbon-capture credits if utilizing sustainable agriculture practices such as no-till farming and methane-capturing equipment.

AFBF President Bob Stallman urged congressional members to think not only about, “…mitigating the impact of higher energy costs but assuring that, whatever and however possible, we maximize the role of agricultural producers in any climate policy, including maximizing the opportunities to reduce and sequester carbon.”

Agriculture contributes 7 to 10 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to Vilsack.

Stallman advocates the implementation and oversight of legislation to be conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vilsack concurs with Stallman and stated that the USDA is better suited to monitor the bill than the proposed Environmental Protection Agency because of its size and scope.

Twelve agricultural groups (American Farmland Trust, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Public Lands Council, United Fresh Produce Association and the Western Growers Association) have endorsed a list of "principles" for the bill which, if included, would sanction their consent of its passage.

What potential issues may arise for the industry as a result of this pending legislation? Are all farm sectors treated equally? Is the federal government being fair to the agriculture community?

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