January 20, 2020

Climate Issues; and Chairman Peterson

Categories: Climate Change

Climate Issues- Agriculture

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack downplayed his own department’s analysis of U.S. climate legislation on Tuesday, saying ‘more current’ studies do not foresee carbon-capturing trees taking over millions of acres of farmland.

Up to 59 million acres of pasture and cropland could be converted to woodland by 2050 under a cap-and-trade system, according to the Agriculture Department analysis. Trees, to control greenhouse gases, would be more lucrative than crops.

If farmland shifts to trees, there would be smaller output of crops and livestock. Critics such as Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns say climate legislation means higher energy and feed prices ‘will likely drive many producers out of business.’”

The Reuters article added that, “‘I think there are other models that are more current and complete, that might lead to significantly, and will be significantly, different conclusions,’ said Vilsack when asked about the USDA study. ‘We think there can be improvements to the modeling that was used in the past.’”

Mr. Abbott indicated that, “As an example, Vilsack pointed to a Nov 11 report by a University of Tennessee think tank that bioenergy crops could blossom under a cap-and-trade system and would not shift cropland to forests.

“Agricultural economist Bruce McCarl of Texas A&M told a House Agriculture subcommittee on Dec 3 that if carbon offsets are not widely available, ‘the market would likely be restricted to increased demand for biofuel and bioelectricity feedstocks.’”

There are 920 million acres of land in U.S. farms, with 325 million acres planted to field crops. The USDA analysis said at low carbon prices, tree-planting would occur mostly on pastureland. As prices rise, cropland would account for half, or more of the conversions,” the article said.

Orion Samuelson spoke with Sen. Mike Johanns on WGN Radio’s Morning Show this past Saturday, in part the discussion focused on cap and trade issues and agriculture. To listen to a portion of this conversation, in which Sen. Johanns brings up concerns regarding tree planting and cropland conversion, just click here (MP3-3:30).

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at DTN that, “Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack rolled out a new agreement to help reduce greenhouse gases in the dairy industry, but he also faced tough questions about the interest of American farmers and livestock producers to participate in climate-change programs.

“Vilsack held a conference call Tuesday from the United Nations talks on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, to announce a memorandum of understanding between USDA and Dairy Management Inc., part of the dairy checkoff, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by helping install more methane digesters on dairy farms. USDA will use various grant and loan programs to help dairy farmers manage livestock waste, partially by making the application process smoother.

“As part of the memorandum, the dairy industry commits to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 throughout the dairy supply chain. USDA officials labeled the agreement ‘historic’ because the entire dairy supply chain will play a role. Further, Vilsack said the industry has agreed to rapidly work to implement its goals through current USDA programs.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “USDA is expected to release its final analysis within a week regarding the impact the House of Representatives climate legislation will have on U.S. agriculture. Vilsack noted that the report by the USDA Office of the Chief Economist relied on EPA’s econometric modeling. Vilsack questioned the viability of his own department’s analysis using the EPA data.

“‘Candidly, I think there are other models more current and more complete that might lead to significantly — and will lead to significantly — different conclusions, and we’ve already seen the impact of those models,’ Vilsack said.

“Vilsack cited studies conducted by the University of Tennessee and Kansas State University. He added that the National Corn Growers Association will soon release a study as well ‘that talks about very little, if any, loss of crop land and negative impacts,’ he said. ‘It very much depends on where you start.’”

Yesterday’s DTN article stated that, “Vilsack added that there are a variety of studies and models that conclude farmers will benefit from climate legislation. Yet, testimony from USDA’s chief economist earlier this month indicated that when it comes to carbon offsets, the bulk of benefits would go to forestry, and higher carbon prices could lead to up to 59 million acres shifting from pasture and crop land to forest by 2050.

“Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a former secretary of agriculture under President Bush, has skewered USDA’s testimony and analysis on climate legislation. In a column Tuesday, Johanns highlighted USDA analysis showing acres could be idled and food prices will increase as a result.

“‘While our farmers will be sitting on the sidelines, planting productive acres into trees, our global competitors, unencumbered by the cap-and-trade dagger, will be planting more crops,’ Johanns’ column stated. ‘This is not a vision for American agriculture, it’s a death sentence. The administration-backed cap-and-trade bill passed by the House represents a paradigm shift in the wrong direction for American agriculture. It is a dangerous public policy proposal that would dramatically impact farmers and ranchers, driving many out of business. I find that unacceptable; the administration needs to go back to the drawing board.’”

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) stated yesterday that, “Soon President Obama will head to Copenhagen, Denmark to attend the United Nations Convention on climate change.

“During a time when our country is suffering from the worst recession in decades with double digit unemployment, when study after study predicts that cap and trade policies will cause higher energy costs and lost jobs, and when polls show that Americans are more concerned about those lost jobs than policies that address climate change – now is not the time for our President to make promises to the international community.”

Meanwhile, Mark Rosegrant, the director of the Environment and Production Technology Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC., noted yesterday at The Global Food for Thought Blog that, “The build-up to the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen united a variety of groups eager to ensure that agricultural adaptation and mitigation are included in a final agreement at the COP-15. The world’s poor people, most of whom live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for a living, will be devastated by climate change’s effects on crop yields and livestock, and only if a Copenhagen accord represents their voices can a crisis be averted. Farmers will require assistance adapting to climate change—both in terms of policies and financing—while developing country agriculture also provides a significant opportunity to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through improved farming methods, with potential income benefits for farmers. At the same time, despite the challenge of climate change, crop production must meet the needs of a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2020.

“After a full year of intense efforts to send these messages to negotiators, organizations focused on agricultural research and development issues—including IFPRI, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), and many others—joined forces to organize the first ever Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) during the Copenhagen conference. The event—as well as the coalition—was inspired by the high profile of Forest Day in years past and the success of forestry groups in pushing for an end to emissions from deforestation, otherwise known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

The update added that, “The agriculture and forestry partnerships teamed up on December 14 to issue a statement to negotiators indicating which critical issues need to be addressed in the arena of poverty reduction, food security, and climate change. This final joint statement is a signal to both developed and developing countries that regardless of how the COP-15 ends, a staunch coalition is in place to ensure that the needs of poor farmers are represented in the years to come.”

Climate Issues: EPA Endangerment Finding

Robin Bravender of Greenwire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “U.S. EPA published its finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health in the Federal Register today, setting a stage for a series of rules to begin regulating the heat-trapping emissions.

“The endangerment finding takes effect on Jan. 14, the notice (pdf) says. And EPA is expected to roll out its first round of greenhouse gas rules by March, the first-ever federal tailpipe standards for greenhouse gases.”

The article noted that, “Today’s formal publication of the endangerment finding also opens the door to litigation. Some opponents of EPA regulations are vowing lawsuits. Challengers to the endangerment finding have until Feb. 16 to file petitions in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.”

The “Washington Insider” section of DTN pointed out yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “During much of the Obama administration’s time in office, the White House has been warning Congress that unless it approves climate change legislation that deals with greenhouse-gas emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency would use its regulatory authorities to achieve many of the same goals. The implication has been that if Congress legislates, EPA would not regulate.

That may be the case, but there are signs the administration will fight to see that EPA retains much of its authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said she did not view legislation vs. regulation as an ‘either-or’ proposition, but rather as a ‘both-and.’ If the climate change legislation makes it to the Senate floor next year, the issue of EPA’s future role in regulating greenhouse-gas emissions could produce widely divergent views among senators.”

And Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “The Obama administration’s threat to regulate greenhouse gas emissions may not be enough to get Congress to enact a cap-and-trade program for limiting carbon, says Sen. Charles Grassley.

“‘There’d have to be an awful education of the public to overcome opposition to cap and trade,’ Grassley said in his weekly conference call with agriculture reporters.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “[Sen. Grassley] conceded, however, that it would also be difficult to get Congress to block EPA from regulating emissions, given that President Barack Obama would likely veto such a bill. It would take two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to overcome a veto.”

Climate Issues: Copenhagen

Susan Page reported yesterday at USA Today Online that, “A solid majority of Americans support the idea of a global treaty that would require the United States to reduce significantly greenhouse gas emissions, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, although many also express concern about the potential impact on the economy.”

With this background in mind, Jeffrey Ball, Stephen Power and Guy Chazan reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The United Nations’ effort to muster global action against climate change appeared to move backward Tuesday, as the world’s leading economies traded barbs over the most basic questions about how to divide responsibility for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“World leaders began arriving Tuesday for the climax of the two-week U.N. climate conference in the Danish capital as disagreements deepened among negotiators for the U.S., the European Union and a bloc of developing nations led by China.”

The Journal writers explained that, “The disagreements involve fundamental issues: the size of emission reductions that individual countries should take on, the amount of money rich countries should pay poor countries to help fund a cleanup, and the extent of monitoring that countries should have to accept so other nations can verify they actually are implementing whatever environmental steps they promise to take.”

The article noted that, “As the wrangling continued, a new draft agreement circulated Tuesday moved backward from an earlier proposal, lacking any targets for carbon cuts and financing.

“The new draft stipulated that developed countries were historically responsible for most global emissions of greenhouse gases and so ‘must take the lead in combating climate change’ by abating their carbon emissions and providing money and technology to poorer nations. That was a bow to developing nations, following a protest Monday by members of the Group of 77, which includes poor countries as well as large emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, whose representatives briefly walked out of the talks.”

Jim Tankersley reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “The world’s poorest and fastest-growing developing nations appear, increasingly, to hold the fate of a new climate agreement in their hands. The choice they face is, deal or no deal?

“As the Copenhagen climate summit barreled into its penultimate phase Tuesday, wealthy countries ramped up pressure on emerging economies China and India, as well as African and island nations, to compromise and drop near-daily procedural tactics and protests that have slowed the negotiations.

“Rich nations still hold some bargaining chips, chiefly how much money they’re willing to commit to help developing countries adapt to climate change and shift their energy sources over the long term.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board was more direct in describing the Copenhagen talks, noting in today’s paper that, “The U.N. climate-change conference in Copenhagen was supposed to be the moment when the world came together to save us from an excess of carbon dioxide. Like all such confabs, it’s coming down instead to cold, hard cash.”

Juliet Eilperin reported in today’s Washington Post that, “As world leaders begin gathering here to hammer out a climate deal in two days, some key decisions still haven’t been made.

“It’s unclear how to fund a deal that could involve the transfer of billions of dollars from industrialized countries to the developing world; delegates remain at loggerheads over which mechanisms should be employed to reduce emissions; and there is continuing debate about how to monitor compliance with a treaty.

“The uncertainty over the talks’ direction raises questions about the next step: what sort of binding treaty policymakers will be able to produce next year, the new deadline they have set.”

Tom Zeller Jr. reported in today’s New York Times that, “Impatience was clearly rising Tuesday at global climate negotiations here as delegates struggled without success to surmount disputes over issues like emissions targets and financial aid for developing countries.

“With less than four days left in the two-week conference, a new draft negotiating text circulating among delegates reflected the wide gulf over those issues and others like monitoring emissions of heat-trapping gases. The United States and China remained at a tense impasse over China’s refusal to accept international monitoring on its turf.”

Meanwhile, Ian Talley reported yesterday at the Environmental Capital Blog (The Wall Street Journal) that, “Senior Obama administration officials Tuesday acknowledged climate negotiations in Copenhagen were in ‘a difficult state’ and clashes over verification of emission reductions and other fundamental issues could stymie a final agreement.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “‘It’s fair to say that [negotiations] have been going in a pretty bumpy fashion and are often difficult,’ said one of the officials. He added, however, such an impasse isn’t unusual in major discussions and is often followed by consensus.”

And, Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in today’s New York Times that, “Negotiators have all but completed a sweeping deal that would compensate countries for preserving forests, and in some cases, other natural landscapes like peat soils, swamps and fields that play a crucial role in curbing climate change.”

The Times article added that, “The agreement for the program, if signed as expected, may turn out to be the most significant achievement to come out of the Copenhagen climate talks, providing a system through which countries can be paid for conserving disappearing natural assets based on their contribution to reducing emissions.”

With respect to how the Copenhagen talks could impact domestic legislation, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Several Capitol Hill lawmakers say whether and to what degree nations allow international monitoring of their efforts will influence the Senate struggle to pass climate legislation next year.

“‘I don’t think you can do anything without it,’ said centrist Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) when asked about the need to verify China’s emissions pledges.

“Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another swing vote in the Senate debate, said lawmakers will keep an eye on other nations when they take up a climate bill. ‘We will … be cognizant that our efforts are certainly limited without full cooperation globally,’ she said.

“Several other centrist lawmakers, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), have said action by China is vital to securing their support for domestic emissions curbs.”

And Darren Samuelsohn of ClimateWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “President Obama and congressional leaders can expect to have a new target completion date in mid-to-late 2010 for passing a global warming and energy bill after the U.N. negotiations wrap up here at the end of the week.

“The 193 countries are likely to leave with an agreement to finish their work either at a June meeting or at the next annual U.N. conference slated for Nov. 8-19 in Mexico City.

“Don’t call it a deadline. But whichever date they pick, it will become critical for Obama back in Washington as he will essentially be putting his credibility on the line and pledging to the world that he can return to the bargaining table with firm commitments on how to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in long-term financing to help developing countries cope with climate change.”

Chairman Peterson

Derek Wallbank reported yesterday at the that, “Rep. Collin Peterson will be running for re-election, he confirmed today, putting to bed rampant speculation that the House Agriculture chairman would retire.”

In part, yesterday’s update added that, “Peterson released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“‘I don’t know why anyone would give credibility to these Republican rumors. I’m running for re-election and anyone who knows me knows that what I’m doing now is what I’ve always done. My paperwork is on file and in February I’ll make an official announcement.

“‘I think political campaigns are already too long (and my constituents agree) and so I wait and do what I can to make mine as short as I can.’”

Keith Good

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