House panel passes climate change bill. No ag protections

American Farm Bureau,

Meeting Chairman Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) Memorial Day recess deadline, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on May 21 approved a climate change bill that ultimately would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The measure also would create a cap-and-trade system and require 15 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass by 2020. The bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), addresses very few, if any, of the concerns farmers and ranchers laid out for the committee before and during the mark-up.

“Nowhere in the nearly 1,000-page measure do lawmakers provide for an agricultural offset program, or recognize the role that agriculture can play in any carbon reduction scheme,” explained Rick Krause, American Farm Bureau Federation climate change specialist. “Nor does the bill address the competitive disadvantage that farmers and ranchers will face in international markets as a result of increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs.” Among agriculture’s other priorities for climate change policy, outlined for the committee by AFBF President Bob Stallman in a May 4 letter, are no limits on credits to offset carbon emissions, no regulation of agricultural practices and a leadership role for USDA in administering an agricultural carbon offset program.

In his letter, Stallman also emphasized that one of the most important aspects of any climate change policy is ensuring that the benefits of a cap-and-trade program outweigh the considerable costs it would impose on industries and individuals. Those costs include restrictions on many, if not most, U.S. industries, with consumers ultimately paying the price. Without an agricultural offsets program, there is no way for farmers to defray the increased costs that will be imposed on them by the bill.

The committee voted down a handful of amendments supported by Farm Bureau, including one that would have effectively included nuclear energy as a renewable energy source and another that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from using international indirect land use calculations in determining compliance with greenhouse gas emissions standards. An amendment that would have ensured that the enactment of legislation would preempt regulation by EPA of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act was also defeated.

Of the amendments Farm Bureau supported, only an amendment allowing the participation in offset markets by early actors passed. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Zack Space (DOhio), allows farmers and ranchers who are already performing carbon reduction or sequestration practices to participate in the offset market if they started after a date to be set by EPA.

The bill has a ways to go before it hits the House floor; more than half a dozen other committees have jurisdiction over different parts of the bill. One of those is the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) who has been very vocal about his opposition to what he called “an urban-dominated bill.” One of Peterson’s main concerns is EPA’s proposal to count international land-use toward calculating the climate impact of using corn-based ethanol. Peterson also noted that the bill’s passage is far from a sure thing in the Senate.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it’s possible the House will take up the measure in June or July, which mirrors House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) plan to bring the bill to the floor this summer.

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