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Ag Role in House Climate Plan 07/01 09:30

   Biofuel Groups See Positives in Push for Low-Carbon Fuels Standard, But 
Criticism and Silence Remain

   After months of hearings, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis 
released a 547-page report that focuses on "rapid development of wind, solar, 
energy efficiency and other zero-carbon energy sources." The plan, with a long 
list of proposals for agriculture, could provide a boost to biofuels and 
promote carbon sequestration markets, but industry groups such the Fertilizer 
Institute warn against higher production costs.

Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

   GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) -- Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives 
released a plan on Tuesday to address climate change through extensive 
investment in renewable energy that also includes ways agriculture and rural 
America would play roles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

   The plan drew mixed reactions in agriculture as some groups did not offer 
any comment. Biofuel groups largely praised the plan, but groups representing 
cattle producers and the fertilizer industry criticized the House proposals. 
The responses reflected agriculture is still locked in some of the same 
conflicts over climate legislation that divided the industry more than a decade 
ago when Democrats last made an aggressive push to pass national legislation to 
reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

   After months of hearings, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis 
released the 547-page report that focuses on "rapid development of wind, solar, 
energy efficiency and other zero-carbon energy sources," which includes heavy 
investment in new transmission infrastructure as well. The ambitious goal of 
the plan would be an economy with 100% net-zero emissions by 2050.

   The report is an essential marker for Democrats, recognizing that the U.S. 
Senate would not take up any climate legislation passed by the House, and 
President Donald Trump would veto any such bill. But several of the 
recommendations are already included in a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure 
bill House Democrats are planning to vote on as early as this week.

   The infrastructure bill includes language promoting extensive investment in 
electric vehicles, which prompted pushback from a coalition of groups, 
including the American Farm Bureau Federation. Farm Bureau and others, 
including the American Petroleum Institute, state the focus on electric cars 
benefits "a small and affluent segment of the driving public" at the expense of 
all drivers.  

   Still, the House climate plan drew praise from biofuel groups because of the 
inclusion of a "feedstock-neutral Low-Carbon Fuel Standard." While planning to 
move the U.S. auto industry to zero emissions, the committee recognizes the 
need for continuing the use of liquid fuels in the coming decades.

   The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and American Coalition for 
Ethanol each released statements on the report and the inclusion of a 
low-carbon fuels standard that could boost ethanol demand in coming years to 
lower emissions.

   "It is gratifying so many in Congress are recognizing that increasing the 
use of ethanol is part of the solution to further reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) 
emissions," said Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol. 
"Properly crafted low-carbon fuel policy built on top of the Renewable Fuel 
Standard's success in beginning to break our country's reliance on petroleum is 
one of the most meaningful things Congress can do to address climate change."

   In a related move on Tuesday, a coalition of groups led by the National 
Farmers Union, its state affiliates and the Governors' Biofuels Coalition filed 
a lawsuit in federal court against EPA against the Safer Affordable Fuel 
Efficiency Vehicle Rule. The groups argue EPA's rule to dial back future 
fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles will minimize the benefits of mid-level 
ethanol blends to provide higher-octane fuels.

   The House plan has an entire chapter on agriculture, calling for more 
funding for USDA's major conservation programs such as the Conservation 
Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program to increase 
"climate-smart" agriculture to help adapt to more extreme climate conditions 
and offset greenhouse-gas emissions. The plan recognizes that with 900 million 
acres in agriculture, "The United States has the potential to sequester a 
substantial amount of carbon in agricultural soils."

   Just last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a bill 
that would provide technical assistance and certification through USDA for 
farmers and forestland owners to participate in carbon markets. A bipartisan 
group of House members introduced a similar bill as well.

   Also, to protect water and land, the House plan calls for reestablishing the 
New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, a program that ran from 1933-42. That 
program once focused on building rural infrastructure such as bridges and dams, 
as well as planting trees and creating public parks.

   Yet, the plan calls for reducing nitrous oxide emissions from synthetic 
fertilizer, "accounting for almost half of all greenhouse-gas emissions from 
the agriculture sector." The plan calls for more "efficient and precise 
nitrogen fertilizer application" to improve water quality, increase yields and 
provide cost savings to farmers.

   The Fertilizer Institute issued a statement pointing to the importance of 
the industry for "global food security, supply and sustainable agriculture 
production." The group stated any policy that puts a price on carbon risks 
increasing fertilizer production costs and "would likely lead the industry to 
reconsider any additional investments in the U.S. and could force production 
overseas."

   The House plan also details proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 
from livestock and again would turn to USDA to provide more resources for 
livestock producers to curb emissions in different ways. The plan also touts 
more investment in strategies that can convert livestock emissions into 
renewable natural gas.

   Still, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association called the report 
"unfortunately the product of partisan discussions" that did not take into 
consideration constituencies from across the country. NCBA cited that beef 
cattle emissions account only 2% of U.S. emissions, but the beef supply chain 
can "play a necessary role in ensuring that beef consumption is a climate 
solution."

   The House Agriculture Committee issued a news release with comments of 
praise from three subcommittee chairs who pointed to ongoing climate-related 
work by the Agriculture Committee.

   "It is encouraging to see both the Select Committee and the larger House 
Democratic Caucus recognize that agriculture and forestry can be a 
collaborative part of the solution to the climate crisis," said Rep. Abigail 
Spanberger, D-Va., chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee. She 
added, "Already in this Congress, we have as a Subcommittee that explored 
important climate issues, including voluntary private land conservation 
programs within the farm bill, precision agriculture and conservation, soil 
health, national forests, and more."

   Notably absent from commentary on the report was House Agriculture Committee 
Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. In 2009, Peterson worked with agricultural 
groups to produce a two-volume book on agricultural views on climate change. He 
then helped draft language for a cap-and-trade bill that eventually passed the 
House in a partisan vote but failed to move in the Senate. Peterson has hardly 
uttered the words climate change since then, and the Agriculture Committee has 
not held a full committee hearing on issues related to climate change over the 
past decade.

   National Farmers Union, now led by one of Peterson's former staffers, Rob 
Larew, issued a statement calling climate change "the single greatest threat 
facing family farmers and ranchers and the global food supply. However, farmers 
are uniquely positioned to mitigate the effects of climate change and sequester 
carbon."

   Larew, the president of NFU, said the organization is encouraged by the 
House work and focus on how to use USDA programs for conservation, research and 
energy.

   "National Farmers Union supports climate policies that build upon voluntary, 
incentive-based USDA conservation programs, encourage on farm energy production 
and biofuels, and market-based solutions that will give farmers the tools to 
make the best decisions for their land," Larew said.

   Ernie Shea, president of Solutions from the Land, also praised the committee 
report. A leader in climate-smart agriculture, Shea said his group "is 
particularly encouraged by the report's advocacy of farmer-to-farmer education 
as a principal building block to support the role of agriculture in addressing 
climate change."

   American Farmland Trust stated the House report "underscores agriculture's 
unique role as a 'natural climate solution' critical to limiting the effects of 
global warming."

   Eric Deeble, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture 
Coalition, also reiterated farmers and ranchers "hold a unique position to 
sequester carbon in our country's soils through best management practices for 
soil health, crop and livestock integration, and agroforestry."

   House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis 
https://climatecrisis.house.gov/report

   Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

   Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN




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