House Agriculture Committee Gathers Views on Pending Climate Bill

House Agriculture Committee Gathers Views on Pending Climate Bill

On June 11, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), convened a hearing on the pending House climate bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), soliciting views from the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and various agricultural groups.

Secretary Vilsack reiterated the Obama administration’s view that Congress must enact comprehensive legislation to address climate change quickly. He observed that agriculture and forestry have important roles to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon, and he stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is well equipped and ready to implement a cap and trade program that includes agricultural and forestry offsets. However, to the consternation of many committee members, he was not prepared to offer either administration views on the specific provisions in the bill (the administration, in general, has not taken a position on this bill) or USDA analysis of the specific impacts that the bill as it is currently written would have on U.S. agriculture or USDA programs.

Testimony from the various agricultural groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, National Corn Growers Association, and the National Milk Producers Federation, offered little to no support for the bill as it is currently written. A top concern was that the agriculture and forestry sector, while offering significant potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon at less cost than many other alternatives, is given only a limited role in the bill. Panelists argued that the amount of domestic offsets should not be capped arbitrarily at one billion tons. Committee members and many of the panelists were emphatic that the USDA – not the Environmental Protection Agency – should be responsible for implementing the agricultural and forestry offsets program.

Various panelists argued that agricultural producers who took early actions to reduce or sequester emissions should be fully recognized and rewarded. Producers should be allowed to “stack” environmental credits from climate, soil and wildlife conservation, and other programs that protect the environment. And any assessment of “leakage” in the domestic offsets program (e.g. if an approved offset in one place leads indirectly to increased emissions elsewhere) should be limited to the jurisdiction of the United States.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee reported the bill out of committee on May 21, and the Speaker of the House reportedly has told the chairs of other committees with jurisdiction (such as Agriculture) to complete work on their portions of the bill by June 19, 2009. Rep. Peterson has made clear his concerns about the bill, and The Hill reported June 10 that Peterson believes as many as 45 Democrats, many of them from rural, agricultural districts, may vote against the bill if it is not amended when it comes to the floor at the end of June.