New climate and clean energy legislation lacks important elements

Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Kerry (D-MA) officially introduced clean energy legislation in the Senate. From American Farmland Trust's (AFT) perspective, the bill that was released falls short of what is needed to maximize agriculture's role, but it is likely to be significantly altered over the course of coming days and weeks of debate as the Senate focuses on this issue.

In a properly designed system, farmers and ranchers can help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by adopting new practices and technologies and by producing low-carbon renewable energy. Specifically, a wide variety of carbon-friendly farming practices, such as no-till or methane digesters, will allow producers to access a market system of offsets worth billions of dollars annually. As importantly, farmers and ranchers will be able to earn income through a nation-wide renewable energy standard as utilities scramble to build new wind turbines or seek bio-mass ingredients for energy production.

Ensuring these factors are properly designed is important because in the near term, projects on agricultural lands are the easiest, most readily available, and cost efficient means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a meaningful scale. This means a well-run system that maximizes agriculture's role will help to lower the cost of compliance for all Americans while also ensuring that we reach our environmental objectives as quickly as possible.

As currently drafted, the Boxer-Kerry bill does not do that; for instance, the bill does not squarely place control of agricultural and forestry offsets under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture.

Legislative solutions that maximize agriculture's income opportunities while minimizing costs are critical, as numerous studies have indicated that while agricultural producers can expect modest increases in production costs as a result of GHG limits and regulations, the ability to participate in offset markets and the production of alternative energies will result in net economic benefits-and provide greater income than the increased cost of production.1,2,3.

"Media reports today confirm that the EPA will soon release the first phase of its regulations in response to the Supreme Court's ruling from two years ago on greenhouse gases. AFT has long maintained that comprehensive clean energy legislation can create opportunities and minimize costs for the agricultural sector that regulations under the Clean Air Act cannot. AFT looks forward to working with Senate leadership, Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and the Agriculture Committee, and all interested Members of Senate to strengthen the bill so agriculture can play an important role in protecting and restoring our environment," said Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust.

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