FarmPolicy

July 25, 2014

House Ag Committee Hearing on Waxman-Markey Climate Bill

Categories: Climate Change

Background

A news release issued yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee indicated that, “Today, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review pending climate change legislation under consideration by Congress.

“The Agriculture Committee heard testimony from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and from representatives of conservation, energy, and agriculture-related organizations.

“‘Many Members of the House Agriculture Committee have serious concerns about how climate change legislation being considered in Congress will affect the people living in their districts,’ Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said. ‘This hearing has helped us better understand what is being proposed and what can be done to improve the legislation.’”

Yesterday’s release added that, “Written testimony provided by the witnesses is available on the Committee website“.

To listen to a broad overview of why the executive branch is interested in climate legislation and to hear a general explanation of the philosophical underpinning of the Obama administration’s desire to see Congress act legislatively on the global warming issue, listen to this FarmPolicy.com audio clip from Sec. Vilsack’s opening statement at yesterday’s hearing (MP3-1:30).

Concept vs. Legislation

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he does not support the current climate bill before Congress, but told the House Agriculture Committee several times Thursday the legislation is a work in progress that can be improved to provide benefits for farmers, ranchers and landowners.

“Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., a vocal critic of the House climate bill, asked Vilsack if the secretary supports the bill as it stands with no role for agricultural offsets spelled out.

“‘No, what I support is the notion that there is work left to be done,’ Vilsack replied.”

To listen to the exchange between Rep. Lucas and Secretary Vilsack that took place in yesterday’s hearing, click on this FarmPolicy.com audio link (MP3-7:26).

After additional questions from other members of the Committee, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) pursued a line of questioning with Sec. Vilsack that was somewhat similar in nature to the themes explored by Rep. Lucas.

In part, Rep. Moran noted to Sec. Vilsack that, “One of the difficulties we have is that you come to the Committee in support of a concept. We are here ultimately to vote on a bill, and I guess my question would be do you endorse this bill or do you just endorse the concept behind the bill?”

To listen to this complete exchange between Rep. Moran and Sec. Vilsack, click on this FarmPolicy.com audio link (MP3-2:46).

Roles for EPA vs. USDA

In his DTN article from yesterday, Chris Clayton also noted that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., pointed to a recent EPA analysis that the greenhouse-gas mitigation dramatically lowered the potential offsets that agriculture and forestry can provide. Peterson questioned the change in analysis, as well as the EPA’s effort to use indirect land-use change in measuring the carbon lifecycle of biofuels.

“‘This is why a lot of us on the committee don’t want the EPA over our farmers,’ Peterson said.”

Philip Brasher also highlighted this exchange between Chairman Peterson and Sec. Vilsack that took place at yesterday’s hearing. At the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) yesterday, Mr. Brasher reported that, “The chairman of the committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., held up for Vilsack to see a copy of an EPA analysis that indicated that there would likely be few credits awarded to farmers. I [Brasher] wrote about this analysis on Sunday and the EPA estimates have since been making the rounds of farm lobbyists. Vilsack said the EPA is working on refining that analysis and that the USDA is studying the issue itself. ‘This is why a lot of us on the committee do not want the EPA near our farmers,’ Peterson told Vilsack.”

To listen to this exchange between Chairman Peterson and Sec. Vilsack from yesterday’s hearing, click on this FarmPolicy.com audio link (MP3-2:50).

Stephen Power flushed out additional details on this aspect of the climate bill debate in an update posted yesterday at the Environmental Capital Blog (The Wall Street Journal), where he reported that, “The Energy Information Administration estimated the value of agricultural offsets at as much as $24 billion. However, more recent analyses by the EPA suggest the environmental agency will rein in what qualifies as an offset. That would mean less money for farmers.

“‘A lot of us on the Committee don’t want the EPA near our farmers. I don’t think you’re going to get any kind of bill through Congress that has that kind of a system,’ Mr. Peterson said. Rep. Leonard Boswell, a Democrat from Iowa, agreed: ‘I don’t think we’re going to have a bill’ unless the legislation is amended to put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of managing offset programs, he said.

“While it sounds like a simple turf war, there’s a reason farmers prefer the USDA to the EPA.”

Mr. Power noted that, “‘They understand how we work,’ said Bob Young, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. He noted that a recent EPA study estimated that the carbon credits from agriculture and forestry likely wouldn’t exceed 300 million tons a year until several decades from now, and that even then, most of those offsets would come from planting and protecting trees, not agriculture.

“That’s a sharp contrast with earlier government estimates, based on farm practices in the late 1990s, which estimated that agriculture practices and forestry programs could cut carbon emissions by nearly 700 million metric tons annually.

“‘There’s very much a sense on EPA’s part that farmers have already made shifts in agriculture practices’ toward activities that cut or avoid emissions, Mr. Young said.”

Also at yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Peterson questioned Sec. Vilsack more generally on the idea of USDA administrating a potential carbon offset program. Chairman Peterson indicated that questions had arisen regarding the Agriculture Department’s expertise to administer such a program.

To listen to the discussion between Chairman Peterson and Sec. Vilsack on this overarching issue of what executive branch agency would be best suited to administer a carbon offsets program, click on this FarmPolicy.com audio link (MP3-3:11).

Probability of Support

With respect to support for the Waxman-Markey energy bill, Stephen Power reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Farm Belt lawmakers said Thursday that the climate legislation in the House may not get the votes to pass unless it is made more farm-friendly.

“The warning, sounded by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), presents a new obstacle to the White House’s effort to get a bill passed this year.

“The objecting lawmakers — both Democrat and Republican — used a hearing of the House Agricultural Committee to call for changes in the bill that, if adopted, could steer more money to farmers who engage in environmentally friendly practices. The lawmakers are also seeking to blunt potentially tough new regulation of the biofuels industry.”

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said yesterday he won’t support the legislation unless changes are made to reduce the potential costs to farmers.”

Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at The New York Times Online (GreenWire) that, “House Democrats are expected to close ranks within days on a major energy-and-climate proposal, leading to floor debate and final passage before the July 4th recess, according to key lawmakers and sources tracking the debate.

Behind-the-scenes talks on the comprehensive bill have left only a few critical sticking points, but those issues are expected to be resolved soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighs in on an issue at the top of her legislative agenda.

“‘We will have a bill,’ the California Democrat said in a brief interview today after her weekly press conference.”

Mr. Samuelsohn indicated in his report from yesterday that, “The biggest sticking point to date in the climate debate centers on farm-state Democrats. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota said he spoke about his concerns by phone yesterday with Pelosi.

“‘She wants to get involved in these issues and see if there’s a way to resolve them,’ Peterson said today.

“[P]eterson added that he is planning to meet later today with Pelosi, Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

“‘We’ll see if we can come to a meeting of the minds about what’s practical,’ Peterson said.

“Waxman today said Pelosi’s involvement has him upbeat about the prospects of the climate bill.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “And one former Democratic leadership aide said today that the Pelosi-led negotiations are expected to accelerate once Peterson finishes his hearing today.

“‘I think everything pulls together very quickly after tomorrow,’ the former House staffer said. ‘My guess is it moves quickly.’”

Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent Jim Angle also filed a report yesterday on the House Agriculture Committee climate bill hearings and discussed issues associated with passing the legislation. To view this television report, which aired yesterday on Fox News Special Report with Bret Baier, just click here.

And with respect to the Senate, Lisa Lerer reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she expects to mark up climate and energy legislation before the August recess, with hopes of a bill reaching the full Senate in the fall.

“The Senate legislation will be based on the bill currently making its way through the House but is likely to include tougher short-term targets for capping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The House legislation proposes a cut of 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

“‘You might see a little bit of a stronger bill come out of our committee,’ said Boxer, who noted that her bill is based on the House cap-and-trade proposal. ‘You’ll see some refinements and changes and tweaks.’”

Yesterday’s Politico report noted that, “The tight timeline could help the bill gain support in the House, where Democrats from rural and conservative states have raised concerns about casting a tough vote for climate and energy legislation without any promise that the Senate will act on the bill.

“‘I don’t think there’s a single person over here who thinks the Senate’s going to do anything,’ said Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.). ‘A lot of members are now starting to grumble and say, ‘Why do I take this hard vote when I don’t know if the bill’s going to work or not and I don’t think it’s going to go to the Senate?’”

Ms. Lerer added that, “House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson discussed the concerns of rural members in a late Thursday afternoon meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the bill’s authors: Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).”

Additional Perspectives

To view the opening statements made yesterday by some members of the House Agriculture Committee, see these links:

- Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma)- “A thousand-page bill of this magnitude deserves thoughtful consideration and debate. This committee is familiar with that kind of process. After all, we only recently completed a five year reauthorization of the 2008 Farm Bill. Consider that fact for a moment because it offers an important contrast from where we are today…For roughly two years, this committee held a series of field hearings across the nation, multiple hearings on specific titles for the farm bill in this very room, and enjoyed bipartisan discussion and collaboration between members. It took us two years to reauthorize a bill that would last five years. But, here we are today with our first public hearing to consider a bill that is written to last forever.”

- Mike Conaway (R-Texas)- “In Texas, our state officials from our the State Agriculture Commissioner, to the Comptroller, and up to the Governor, have expressed grave concerns and even opposition to the legislation. They have studied it and determined that it would bring more harm than benefit to our Great State. Further, a growing number of Texas agriculture organizations that span the entire spectrum of production have reviewed this bill and come to the same conclusion. I plan to submit their letters for the record so that even in their absence here today, their voices and concerns may be heard. These producers and organizations, involved in the day-to-day operations of farms and ranches realize full well the pending disaster that the Markey-Waxman legislation would cast upon rural America.”

- Adrian Smith (R-Neb.)- “I am saddened those who drafted this measure would mislead those who would most be affected by it. To put it simply, this bill is a national energy tax which will disproportionately target rural America and middle class families. This bill supposedly combats global warming by setting strict limits on carbon emissions, but in doing so it imposes enormous taxes and restrictions on energy use – placing an especially heavy burden on rural America and our nation’s agriculture producers. Even a small increase in operating costs could devastate farmers and ranchers.”

Keith Good

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