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Climate Legislation; Trade; Crop Yields; and Animal Agriculture

Climate Legislation: What Does “Comprehensive” Mean?

And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”
-Pres. Obama from Wednesday’s State of the Union Address.

Reuters writers Richard Cowan and Timothy Gardner reported yesterday that, “U.S. Senators are examining ways to fashion a climate control bill to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which might not include a cap-and-trade system, key senators said on Thursday.

“President Barack Obama called for a ‘comprehensive’ bill during Wednesday’s State of the Union address.

“In his speech, Obama did not specifically mention the need for a market-based emissions cap. Some interpreted the omission as signaling that he would not actively pursue wide-ranging climate control legislation this year.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “‘Comprehensive climate change (legislation) means pricing carbon and setting a target for reduction,’ Senator John Kerry, a Democrat and one of three lawmakers leading difficult talks to hammer out a compromise climate bill, told Reuters.

“Kerry strongly rejected the idea that progress had bogged down. ‘I just don’t agree with that interpretation at all,’ he said, adding that Senate negotiations were ‘making headway.’”

Cowan and Gardner pointed out that, “Kerry said he plans to outline a comprehensive bill that could be considered this spring, although he did not want to be pinned down to a definite deadline. ‘We are writing and drafting; we’re pulling together the titles’ of a bill.”

In a separate Reuters article from yesterday, Timothy Gardner reported that, “Obama needs bipartisan support to pass the climate bill in the Senate, where his Democrats just lost one of the 60 seats they needed to override objections.

He did not say the bill had to include a cap-and-trade market for emissions blamed for warming the Earth.

“‘It seems like the Democratic leadership is sticking with combined energy and climate change legislation for now. While he did not say cap-and-trade, he did say they are going to push for comprehensive climate policy,’ said Will Pearson, a global energy analyst at the Eurasia Group.”

In further analysis of the President’s remarks on climate legislation, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “Obama called for Senate action on ‘comprehensive’ energy and climate legislation following House passage last year, but did not mention cap-and-trade or any limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The phrase ‘cap-and-trade’ – the emissions-cutting system the House approved – has fallen out of favor, but ‘comprehensive’ is viewed as code for mandatory curbs on heat-trapping gases.

So Obama’s phrasing was fine with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) hopes to craft compromise legislation that blends emissions caps with sweeteners for the GOP and industry like new nuclear power subsidies.”

On the other hand, yesterday’s Hill update noted that, “But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, heard a somewhat different speech.

“‘If he was really going to be pushing climate this Congress, I think he would have given far more footage in the speech to that,’ she said in a short interview. ‘The fact that he spoke to key aspects of the energy bill and singled out nuclear and offshore production, that was a signal as far as I was concerned about pushing an energy bill, but no mention of cap-and-trade, no mention of some of the more controversial aspects of what people would say comprise the climate bill.’

“Murkowski , along with several centrist Democrats, has called for passage of the bipartisan energy bill the committee approved in June. It aims to boost development of renewable and traditional energy sources, and also contains several new energy efficiency programs, but lacks emissions limits.”

Mr. Geman noted that, “Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a centrist who is up for reelection this year, said he backs tackling energy legislation that does not include cap-and-trade.

“‘If I were advising the President, I would focus on energy security and job creation in the energy space that would have the additional advantage of helping address carbon emissions, but do it in an economic, growth-friendly way,’ he told reporters in the Capitol after the speech.”

In a separate update posted yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog, Ben Geman reported that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that Democrats are not backing away from climate change despite the absence of specific pleas in President Obama’s State of the Union speech to cap greenhouse gas emissions.”

“‘We are going to do an energy bill,’ Reid added at a briefing. ‘Any energy bill we do will have to look at carbon.’ How that’s accomplished will be determined in the future, Reid said.

“But Obama’s chief political adviser [David Axelrod] appeared to downplay the importance of climate change in the State of the Union address in a short interview after the speech.”

The Hill update stated that, “Axelrod also seemed to stress an energy bill over legislation that would include a controversial cap-and-trade mechanism prized by environmental groups.

“‘I think there is a great deal of support for energy legislation, and the president laid out an aggressive agenda there that includes nuclear, that includes some additional domestic exploration, that also includes alternative energy sources,’ he said.”

Darren Samuelsohn of ClimateWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “President Obama refused to back down from his ambitious energy and climate change agenda during last night’s State of the Union address, prodding the Senate to pass a comprehensive bill despite complaints from moderates in both parties that the issue is too big to tackle in an election year.

“The president inserted climate and energy legislation near the top of his domestic agenda, urging lawmakers to shift there once they finish work on a jobs bill and new financial rules for Wall Street. Notably, Obama mentioned the energy and climate issue ahead of his health care reform effort that hit a major snag last week when Senate Democrats lost their 60-seat supermajority in the Massachusetts special election.”

Yesterday’s article pointed out that, “Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called the idea of a comprehensive energy and climate bill ‘important’ and pledged to ‘try to find a way.’ But he added, ‘There’s a lot to pass in nine months.’

“Baucus said he does not plan to mark up a climate bill in the near future. ‘We have to figure out some other big issues first,’ he said.

“Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) echoed a handful of senators who have questioned whether it is possible for the Senate to get 60 votes on the cap-and-trade program seen as critical for putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Even with Obama pushing, Brown said he was not sure.”

Mr. Samuelsohn noted too that, “Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) read between the lines of Obama’s remarks to question whether he was truly pushing for the cap-and-trade program that most environmentalists want.

“‘I only heard him use the word ‘climate’ twice,’ said Murkowski, a possible swing vote on the issue who has been leading efforts to neuter any climate regulations out of the Obama-led U.S. EPA. ‘I guess what I took from it was his urging us to move on an energy bill that was more comprehensive, that’s beefed up nuclear and offshore production, which I thought was very good. But if he was really urging members of the Senate to act on a cap-and-trade piece, I certainly didn’t hear that part.’”

In a separate update yesterday highlighting the political connotations of the climate debate, Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin reported at the Post Carbon Blog that, “Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) Thursday fired back after being targeted by the League of Conservation Voters for her environmental record, issuing a statement saying ‘threats from outside special interest groups will not deter her from remaining a strong and independent voice for Arkansas.’

“‘Lincoln was targeted today by a Washington-based, liberal environmental group because she stood for jobs and economic growth last week as a cosponsor of a resolution of disapproval to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,’ the statement reads.

“Noting that the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas gave her the Dale Bumpers ‘Forever Arkansas’ award two months ago, Lincoln said she would make no apologies for her voting record on green issues.”

In other climate related developments, Juliet Eilperin reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The United States pledged Thursday to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels under an international climate agreement, though it made its commitment contingent on passing legislation at home.”

Meanwhile, Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray reported in today’s Washington Post that, “A day after President Obama called on them to renew efforts to pass his ambitious agenda, congressional Democrats remained in disarray Thursday about how to move forward, with at least some pointing at the White House as the cause of the legislative standstill gripping Capitol Hill.”

In addition to potential conflict between the administration and legislation branch, Naftali Bendavid reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “House Democrats are complaining bitterly about being placed in political peril by a group of unlikely adversaries: Senate Democrats.

“The way many House Democrats see it, they took a series of tough votes last year on measures dealing with thorny issues such as health care and climate change, only to see the bills get bogged down in the Senate, leaving House Democrats politically exposed with nothing to show for it.

Tensions between Democrats in the two chambers are increasingly palpable as the party tries to pull itself out of a tailspin.”

Climate Issues and Agriculture

A statement released yesterday on the President’s State of the Union address by Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman noted in part that, ““While we support the president’s stated position on energy legislation and the direction of his trade initiative, we cannot support climate change legislation in its current form. As we have continually stressed, climate change legislation currently before Congress will sharply cut the numbers of acres devoted to U.S. food production and will increase energy costs for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

In a related article, Reuters writer Bob Burgdorfer reported yesterday that, “Combating government regulations that could raise costs for already struggling U.S. cattle producers will be the top priority of the next president of the nation’s largest cattle group.

“Cattle producers have been losing money for nearly two years and some may go out of business, but Steve Foglesong, who is set to become the next president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said government policies on ethanol use and climate change could pose more serious problems for the industry.”

The article indicated that, “Foglesong is also concerned that an EPA threat to regulate carbon emissions if Congress fails to pass a new climate change law. Regulations could go forward as early as March, but opponents including the NCBA have already launched lawsuits.

“Farm groups worry the EPA regulations would raise their costs. Climate change measures before Congress could also affect cropping patterns and feed grain production.”

Trade: National Export Initiative- Few Details

Helene Cooper reported in today’s New York Times that, “In promising Wednesday night to double the United States’ export growth over the next five years, President Obama set an ambitious goal for American trade policy that, he said, could create two million jobs.”

Today’s article noted that, “So far, administration officials have not laid out how they plan to double American exports to $2 trillion in 2015, from $1 trillion today. Mr. Obama said he was starting a National Export Initiative that will ‘help farmers and small businesses increase their exports,’ but did not elaborate. White House officials, when pressed, said only that the commerce secretary, Gary F. Locke, would give a speech on the matter next week.”

And Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “During his state of the union message, President Barack Obama called for doubling U.S. exports in five years and creating something called a National Export Initiative. Obama said that the increase in exports would create 2 million new jobs and that this initiative would help both farmers and small businesses. So what’s this National Export Initiative? I’ve asked the White House press office for an explanation but haven’t received anything so far. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office isn’t much help. The web site posted a video clip of Obama’s remarks and adds this: ‘Be sure to keep checking back at USTR.gov for more information in the coming days.’”

Crop Yields

An extension article by University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey (“Yield Increases on Illinois Crops: Questions For the Future”), which was posted earlier this week, stated that, “Over time, yields on crops grown in Illinois have increased due to technological advances. In this article, growth rates are examined for the four crops with the largest number of acres in Illinois: corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. Of the four crops, corn has the highest growth rate from 1960 through 2009. In the most recent decade, corn growth rates have exceeded the 1960-2009 average while soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa growth rates have been below 1960-2009 averages.”

After a detailed analysis, Dr. Schnitkey indicated that, “Experience during the 2000s suggests that growth rates may be declining from early periods, particularly for soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. If growth rates are declining, it may be due to a change in public emphasis away from increasing productivity to placing more emphasis on environmental and other societal concerns. As a result, gaining governmental approval of new technologies that increase yields has become longer and more protracted. For example, it is much more difficult today to gain approval of new herbicides and insecticides than in the past. There are ‘fears’ of adopting biotechnology on a number of levels, leading to protracted approval processes and controversy surrounding biotechnologies. Moreover, agricultural production practices have come under scrutiny: Emphases have been placed on switching to more soil conserving tillage practices and on lowering fertilization rates. All of these efforts may have societal benefits, but they do not necessarily lead to increased agricultural productivity.

Recent relatively higher growth rates for corn yields stands in contrast to lower growth rates for soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. A number of potential causes could explain corn higher growth rates. In recent decades, seed and genetic companies have placed a great deal of investment in developing new corn hybrids through traditional plant breeding and use of biotechnology. Farmers have adopted these new hybrids, as evidenced by the high adoption of biotechnology hybrids. In 2009, 84 percent of all acres in Illinois were planted to some biotech hybrid, an increase from no acres before biotechnology altered hybrid introductions were introduced in the 1990s (data from National Agricultural Statistical Service).

“More observations on yields in the future will provide further evidence of whether yield productivity is changing over time. Historically, agricultural productivity increases have been substantial and have provided positive benefits, with many of the benefits accruing to consumers in the form of lower food prices. Continued high growth rates would continue this benefit stream.”

Animal Agriculture

Carol Stender reported yesterday at AgriNews Online that, “Imagine exporting Minnesota-grown corn and soybeans to Brazil, Mexico or China to feed livestock and then having the meat and eggs shipped back to the U.S. for consumption.

The scenario is not far from reality, said Chad Gregory at the 2010 Strategic Animal Ag Conference in Willmar Jan. 15.

“Gregory, United Egg Producers senior vice president, said PETA and the Humane Society of the United States are targeting organizations like Gregory’s.”

Yesterday’s article indicated that, “There are 24 states that allow citizens to collect signatures to get measures on the ballot. It’s how California’s Proposition 2 was initiated. The proposition calls for animals being given the ability to stand up, sit down, turn around and extend limbs without touching anything.”

And what would happen if cages were banned? About 15 million more hens would be needed to produce the same number of eggs because mortalities double in cage-free environments, he said. It would also require 1 million additional acres of corn and soybean production.

“‘More egg farmers would simply go out of business,’ [Gregory] said. ‘Cheaper eggs could be produced in China, Brazil in Mexico,’ he said. ‘There are additional questions of food safety, the environment and the cost of food.’”

Keith Good