Farm industry groups weigh in on climate change amendment

The nation’s farm industry associations responded quickly last week to the announcement that an agreement had been reached between the U.S. House Agriculture Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee making the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 more palatable to agriculture.

Mainstream farm groups, however, remain skeptical about how the bill will affect long term viability of farm and ranch operations.

The National Cotton council commended Representative Colin Peterson, chairman of the House Ag Committee, for his “stalwart efforts…to successfully negotiate amendments to H.R. 2454, which authorizes USDA to develop and administer agricultural offsets in a cap-and-trade program,” an NCC spokesperson said in a statement.

“The NCC supports development of these offsets as a means to mitigate, to some degree, the impact of significantly higher energy and input costs to production agriculture and agribusiness.”

The organization stopped short of endorsing the legislation, however, and concluded that the costs of higher energy and other production inputs for every sector of the U.S. cotton industry will far outweigh any benefits from offsets.

NCC analysis show direct energy costs related to production, ginning, marketing, and yarn spinning indicates that every 10 percent increase in input prices will increase costs by at least $175 million.

NCC also expressed concern over the international disparity the bill would establish for U.S. industries, citing China and India, the two largest cotton and textile producing countries, and competitors with U.S. cotton in the international market.

“Both countries are significant and growing greenhouse gas emitters and both have refused to sign onto any agreement to curtail their emissions.”

The National Corn Growers Association also expressed appreciation for Peterson’s efforts but also encouraged caution as the legislation goes through both houses of Congress. “We appreciate the dedication Chairman Peterson has shown to U.S. corn growers and the agriculture industry during this legislative process,” NCGA President Bob Dickey said. “His amendment to the climate change legislation will make several steps in the right direction.” The amendment will create a workable agricultural offsets market under the jurisdiction of the USDA and will explicitly exempt agriculture from a greenhouse gas emissions cap while also creating opportunities for producers to be a part of the solution for addressing climate change.

Corn growers and others also were pleased that Peterson was able to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from including international land use change when calculating carbon emissions from corn-based ethanol. NCGA will continue to advocate for producers who have been engaged in no-till and conservation tillage practices since earlier than 2001 to ensure they will not be unfairly penalized by being disqualified from an offsets market when continued carbon sequestration is achievable on their land, Dickey said. “NCGA will remain neutral on the overall bill until we can fully analyze the impact on our growers, “Dickey said. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) expressed strong support for the amendment.

A statement from RFA said the amendment reflects many of the concerns the renewable fuels industry has expressed about international land use change being incorporated into lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses required by the RFS.

“The RFA welcomes an open and robust science-based discussion of the international land use and indirect impacts of all fuels,” the statement read. “EPA’s proposed rule failed a basic test that government regulation be based upon science that is transparent, reliable and verifiable. Done correctly, the RFA believes such an analysis will demonstrate a significant carbon benefit is achieved through the use of ethanol from all sources.”

“The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 could be the most sweeping conservation legislation enacted in the 21st century,” says Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust. “If done properly, this legislation could create incentives to improve stewardship on hundreds of millions of acres of American farm and ranch land and produce low carbon renewable fuels on farms.”

He said the legislation would bring new sources of income to producers. “We support this bill moving forward to a successful vote on the House floor.”

AFT cited several important provisions in the new bill, including: Good opportunities to generate wind and solar energy, to utilize digester technologies to producer biogas or electricity and changes to make biomass power generation more accessible to producers.

“There will be opportunities over the coming months to work with the Senate to refine the bill and remove any remaining barriers to agriculture’s participation as a solution to climate change,” Scholl said.

Karl Scronce, National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) president and a wheat producer from Klamath Falls, Ore., said the organization supports the amendment.

“We have signed onto nine industry principles for pending legislation. H.R. 2454 with changes as negotiated by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson will contain language effectively adhering to the former and satisfying nearly all of the latter. In fact, the changes Chairman Peterson negotiated also address additional concerns about regional flexibility, biomass production and indirect land use calculations.

“Therefore, NAWG supports the passage of H.R. 2454 with the Peterson amendment.

“We acknowledge the inevitability of greenhouse gas regulation – whether that comes through legislation produced by Congress or rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under authority given by the Supreme Court.

“Members of NAWG’s staff and leadership have worked for a number of years to ensure that agriculture has a place in any climate change legislation and that producers are able to reap potential benefits rather than just accept coming costs,” Scronce said.

“This is not perfect legislation, but legislation rarely is.

National Sorghum Producers Chairman Toby Bostwick, a sorghum producer from Melrose, New Mexico, said the organization “recognizes, wholeheartedly appreciates, and supports the efforts of Chairman Collin Peterson to fight for agriculture's protection in negotiations on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The amendment is certainly a step in the right direction toward protecting and benefitting farmers in any future climate change legislation.”

But NSP is not ready to endorse the legislation.

"This piece of legislation has far reaching impacts that have the potential to affect every American citizen. Given the potential negative effects of this bill on cost of production and world competitiveness of agriculture producers, NSP cannot in the best interests of our producer members and agriculture in general, support the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” Bostwick said.

He said the bill “leaves too many unanswered questions for our industry. NSP will remain involved in the legislative process as long as climate change legislation is under discussion. NSP strongly encourages members of Congress to vote 'yes' on Chairman Peterson's amendment to the bill and to vote 'no' on final passage of H.R. 2454.”

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