FarmPolicy

October 19, 2019

Climate Legislation; Corn Use; and Food Security

Categories: Climate Change

Climate Legislation

Juliet Eilperin reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Disregarding a Republican boycott, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed legislation Thursday that would impose a mandatory curb on greenhouse gas emissions.

“The move to report out the bill sponsored by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and the panel’s chairman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), highlighted the divisiveness of the current proposal, as well as Democrats’ eagerness to demonstrate they are making at least some progress before international climate talks next month in Copenhagen.

“Even as the panel approved the measure on a vote of 11 to 1 — with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) opposing it because he said it included climate targets that are too steep and would not do enough to protect farmers — attention shifted to Kerry’s efforts to collaborate with Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a different bipartisan measure that would seek to expand the number of nuclear reactors and oil drilling off U.S. coasts. Many senators see these talks — rather than the bill approved in committee — as the main vehicle for any legislation that would reach the floor.”

The article added that, “Baucus, who had sought to bring the measure’s 2020 reduction target down to 17 percent and wanted additional provisions concerning the agriculture industry, said he will continue to work to craft a more politically viable piece of legislation.” (Note: To listen to comments made by Sen. Baucus at yesterday’s Senate Committee meeting regarding his “no” vote on the bill, just click here (MP3-3:04)).

Today’s article indicated that, “Boxer issued a statement saying the panel acted ‘in full accordance with longstanding committee and Senate rules.’

Committee Republicans decried the move, saying the Environmental Protection Agency should have conducted a full economic analysis of the measure, which would have cost taxpayers $350,000, agency officials said.”

Peter Wallsten and Siobhan Hughes reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Divisions among Democrats were on display Thursday in a Senate committee vote approving a climate-change bill.

“Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) voted against his own party’s climate-change bill, calling for a scaled-back measure that might win more bipartisan support. Mr. Baucus, a key player in the health-care overhaul debate, said the measure set too ambitious a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, and hadn’t done enough to protect farmers.”

The Journal article explained that, “The tensions among Democrats point to the wider debate within the party about how aggressively to push the leading issues on President Barack Obama’s agenda after Tuesday’s election setbacks. Moderate Democrats worry about moving too fast for voters, while liberals say swift action on issues like climate change and health care will remotivate the party’s base.

“One of the climate bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), signaled Thursday he was well aware of the political challenges facing his more conservative colleagues. Mr. Kerry has launched discussions with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Connecticut independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman to fashion a compromise measure.”

However, with respect to Sen. Lindsey Graham, Lisa Lerer reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham – the Democrats’ best shot at a Republican vote for climate-change legislation – says he would have voted against the bill that passed out of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday.

“‘There are simply not the votes to pass this bill through the Senate,’ Graham said. “If the Boxer bill were to come to the Senate floor as written, I would vote ‘no.’”

Bloomberg writer Simon Lomax reported yesterday that, “Graham joined yesterday with Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, in pledging to work toward climate-change legislation that can win broad support.

“‘If environmental policy is not good business policy, you’ll never get 60 votes,’ Graham told reporters, referring to the number of votes typically required to pass major legislation in the Senate.

“There are currently 58 Democrats in the Senate and two independents who caucus with them. Republican votes may be needed to pass climate legislation because some Democrats, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, have said they are opposed to cap-and-trade.

“Some other Democrats, like Baucus and Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, are concerned that cap-and-trade legislation will hurt coal-dependent states and won’t support the measure in its current form.”

John M. Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “In a step that reflected deep partisan divisions in the Senate over the issue of global warming, Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee pushed through a climate bill on Thursday without any debate or participation by Republicans.”

And on the “no” vote by Sen. Baucus, the Times article stated that, “Mr. Baucus’s vote against the bill was another ominous sign. He is the influential chairman of the Finance Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, both of which will have major input in any final climate and energy legislation. He said the bill’s emission reduction targets were too ambitious and its agriculture provisions too weak. He said the measure had a long way to go.

“‘This is a first step,’ he said Thursday. ‘There will be many other steps.’”

Edward Felker pointed out in today’s Washington Times that, “But the legislation, co-authored by committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and fellow Democrat Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, will not go directly to the Senate floor. It will instead become a starting point for extensive negotiations among lawmakers led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“The committee’s approval of a climate-change bill was also designed to show other nations that the U.S. government was serious about cutting carbon-dioxide emissions and prod other countries to do the same. Mrs. Boxer told reporters that the vote will help the cause of reaching a global warming agreement at the international summit in Copenhagen next month.”

The Washington Times article noted that, “Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she was disappointed with the way the bill was approved, which she called a mistake.

“‘It’s certainly going to make it much more difficult for people like me, who believe we need to have some sort of climate change legislation, to take seriously what the committee produced,’ she said.”

Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire indicated in an article posted yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Boxer’s move was criticized by several moderate Republicans, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine — all of whom are seen as critical to reaching 60 votes. They signed letters this week urging EPA to complete its analysis before the EPW panel moved forward.”

Bloomberg writers Nicholas Johnston and Heidi Przybyla reported yesterday that, “Democrat Ben Nelson, a Senator from Nebraska, said the slumping economy and rising joblessness will be factors as Congress considers climate change and health care legislation. They are also driving concerns about the budget deficit, which widened to a record $1.42 trillion in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, he said.

“‘When the economy’s not strong there’s a lot of interest in controlling spending,’ Nelson said.”

Keith Johnson noted earlier this week at the Environmental Capital Blog (The Wall Street Journal) that, “But as the country heads into another election year, with a nervous Congress looking over its shoulder, the jobs question might just end up deciding the energy question.”

Jim Snyder, writing yesterday at The Hill Online, reminded readers that, “There are five other committees that can claim some jurisdiction over climate and energy legislation. That includes Baucus’s Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for determining how valuable emissions allowances will be distributed.”

It also includes Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-Arkansas) Agriculture Committee.

An item posted at the National Journal Online earlier this week included an extensive Q and A with Sen. Lincoln on climate issues- the interview was conducted on October 23 with Margaret Kriz Hobson.

The National Journal item explained that, “In September, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., became chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Before taking control of the panel, Lincoln had been a vocal critic of climate change legislation. Since she joined the leadership, she’s taken a more cautious approach. As a member of three committees with jurisdiction over global warming issues — Agriculture, Energy and Finance — Lincoln’s agricultural perspective will carry great weight in the climate change debate.”

The Q and A item included this exchange: How do you intend to approach climate change legislation?

“Lincoln: I’ve heard from members of the committee that think we need to look at how agriculture is viewed…. [Farmers] have a wide variety of issues in terms of their input costs [of higher energy prices]. They want to know what that’s going do to their productivity or how will they compete globally if other countries are not under those same types of restrictions and input cost increases. The legislation also has a real possibility of having an impact on the cost of food to consumers, both here in this country and globally.

“We want to look at how are the possible [free] credits or allowances [distributed under a cap-and-trade program] going to be used by agriculture. How do you determine the [greenhouse gas] outputs from agriculture? There are still a lot of unanswered questions.”

Will you hold a markup on the Kerry-Boxer bill?

Lincoln: We want to have our hearings. We’re not planning markups now. I think its way too premature to do any of that.

“The Finance Committee is going to consider this [legislation]. There are a lot of different ideas on that committee about how is this going to work in terms of a marketplace. You’ve got several members of the Finance Committee that think there are other ways to [control greenhouse gases] than just the cap-and-trade type of marketplace. Many of us sitting on Finance or Energy or Agriculture are looking at how that’s going to work. We want legislation that really does hit the priorities. But we also know that there are a lot of other things on our plate — health care reform, financial regulation reform. Derivatives come under our jurisdiction. So will the markets for the carbon credits.”

ClimateWire writer Joel Kirkland noted earlier this week that, “Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said Congress will probably have to pass financial reforms that regulate the $300 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market before passing carbon cap-and-trade legislation.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported yesterday that, “U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s approval rating is at its lowest level since she took office in 1999 and support for the Democratic lawmaker has dropped 11 percent in the past year, a poll released Thursday by the University of Arkansas showed.

“The report suggests Lincoln is vulnerable as she seeks a third term in the Senate next year. The university’s poll, however, said that three-fourths of respondents aren’t following news about Lincoln’s re-election bid.”

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On the issue of climate change and agricultural offsets, Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “The Environmental Working Group, which has been critical of the agricultural offset programs being developed in Congress, says some ongoing government research should raise concerns about using farms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “Soil scientist Jane Johnson compared emissions from a conventional two-year corn and soybean rotation with a low-till, four-year rotation of corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa, with and without added fertilizer. As a control, she also included some unfertilized plots.

“Some of the key results Johnson is getting, according to the report:

“No matter which tillage or crop rotation system was used, nitrous oxide emissions peaked during spring thaws when the sun’s rays began to warm the soil.

“Chisel and moldboard plowing increased carbon dioxide emissions for a short time. But measured over the course of a year, carbon dioxide emissions were no different from plots with intensive tillage than from plots without it.

“Johnson is finding that when measured over the course of a year, greenhouse gas releases are largely the same under 2-year and 4-year rotation systems and that applying nitrogen fertilizer has less overall impact on nitrous oxide emissions than anticipated. The test plots were managed to match nitrogen application with nitrogen use, which may have reduced nitrous oxide emission.”

Meanwhile, an update posted yesterday at the 25×25 Blog stated in part that, “Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and four other senators, should be commended for their sponsorship of legislation unveiled this week that further supports and clarifies the opportunities for the agriculture and forestry sectors in a climate change regulatory system. The bill is an amendment that would modify climate change legislation that, until now, had been considered a non-starter among agricultural interests. The so-called Kerry-Boxer bill, passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, provides little in itself that would allow farms, ranches and forestlands to contribute to the fight against climate change or benefit from practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“And while the Stabenow amendment represents a significant improvement over the agricultural provisions in Title V of the House-passed American Clean Energy Security Act (ACES), more can be done by lawmakers to maximize the role of U.S. agriculture and forestry in stemming climate change before final legislation is adopted.”

However, William Tucker, writing yesterday at National Review Online, provided a very critical perspective on Sen. Stabenow’s climate related agricultural proposals.

Reuters news reported yesterday (article posted at DTN, link requires subscription) that, “Low-carbon farming can both curb climate change and boost food output in developing nations and so must be rewarded under a global climate deal due in December, the U.N.’s food agency said on Thursday.

“Steps to cut carbon emissions on farms in developing countries could also boost yields where food is shortest, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report published on Thursday.”

Corn Use

Andrew Pollack reported in today’s New York Times that, “As many as 25 percent of the American farmers growing genetically engineered corn are no longer complying with federal rules intended to maintain the resistance of the crops to damage from insects, according to a report Thursday from an advocacy group.”

Food Security

Jonathan Wheatley reported earlier this week at The Financial Times Online that, “Malthusians worried about the world’s ability to feed itself might like to listen to Roberto Rodrigues, an agribusiness consultant and former Brazilian agriculture minister.

“‘The idea that there will be a shortage of food is just plain wrong,’ he says. ‘Production in Brazil is growing in all areas.’

“From a middling agricultural country, it has grown into a superpower in the past two decades, becoming the world’s biggest exporter of beef, chicken, orange juice, green coffee, sugar, ethanol, tobacco and the ‘soya complex’ of beans, meal and oil, as well as fourth biggest exporter of maize and pork.

Unlike much of Brazil’s economy, where productivity gains have been less than spectacular, agriculture has achieved its new status almost entirely on the basis of more efficient management and the development and application of technology.”

After a closer look at various statistics regarding Brazilian agriculture, the FT article stated that, “Mr Rodrigues, who is from a long line of farmers, says he recently visited his son’s farm in the northern state of Maranhão.

When he asked for some fresh eggs and some salad from the vegetable garden, his son told him he could get those from the supermarket.

“‘That’s the way it has to be today,’ he says. ‘Concentration on the most efficient means of production.’”

The FT article added that, “Unlike many other agricultural nations, Brazil has almost no rural insurance to protect farmers from factors beyond their control; apart from the weather, they are also at the mercy of interest rates, foreign exchange rates, trade negotiations and more.”

Mr Rodrigues says Brazil’s status as an agricultural superpower can only grow. He says he knows of 22 foreign investment funds looking for opportunities.

“‘If I were an investor, I would put my money in logistics and fertiliser,’ he says. ‘The opportunities are fantastic. And people are coming without our doing anything to invite them.’”

Keith Good

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