Climate bill hits ag's bottom line

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Senate began debate on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act last week. The bill stalled Wednesday after Republicans complained that Senate Majority Harry Reid, (D., Nev.), had blocked approval of judicial nominations and the political impasse could hold up the legislation for the remainder of the year. Democrats moved to limit debate, which brought quick opposition from Republicans.

The Senate Friday attempted to pass the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008, but the 48-36 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed.

Although the President didn't support the bill because it would sharply raise the price of gas and taxes, it was seen as a test-run of what could happen in 2009.

Senate Republicans wanted a thorough debate on the bill to fix what it called costly policy with costs soaring to as much as $6.7 trillion over the next 50 years. When the Senate considered the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, the process took five weeks on the floor; 180 amendments were offered, and 131 were ultimately acted upon by the full Senate.

Overall the legislation aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2050. In regards to agriculture, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Act takes a voluntary, non-regulatory approach to addressing climate change through carbon sequestration on agricultural lands, as well as capturing emissions from livestock facilities.

Agricultural organizations see challenges and opportunities with the legislation in its current form. The National Corn Growers Assoc. considers carbon sequestration projects on agricultural lands as a viable means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agricultural and forestry lands can sequester 20% percent of all annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. It is estimated that carbon sequestration on agricultural lands currently offset approximately 1% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Debate last week focused on a substitute amendment offered for the Lieberman-Warner bill by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Several agricultural groups withdrew support for the Boxer substitute amendment, and hoped Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.) could create an amendment to Boxer's amendment that could be better functioning for agriculture.

In a letter of support last week, major agriculture organizations praised the efforts of Stabenow and other co-sponsors to create a workable GHG cap-and-trading system. Read the letter here.

Increased input costs

A study released prior to the debate by Doane Advisory Services for The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) states that if the bill is enacted, U.S. farmers' cost of doing business could increase by $6 to $12 billion. The study analyzed the energy price impacts of the bill on eight major U.S. crops.

TFI President Ford B. West, said, "While some growers may have an opportunity to receive payments for sequestering carbon if they use specific farming practices, the costs of this legislation appear to far outweigh any potential benefits.•bCrLf

Due to increasing energy prices, operating costs for corn are forecast to rise by an additional $60.14 per acre by 2020. Potential climate change legislation will add up to $78.80 in operating costs per acre of corn, resulting in a total increase of well over $100 per acre by 2020. As a share of total production costs, results for the others crops considered are equally significant.

Read the full study here.


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