House passes climate change bill

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By just one vote, the House passed its monumental climate change bill last week. The bill has the potential to greatly increase energy costs for all Americans, especially farmers. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson was able to include measures to help farmers earn credit for measures taken to reduce their environmental footprint, the question remains whether it will be enough.

The stance from most agricultural groups was that the provisions Peterson included for agriculture were welcomed, but the bill still had too many problems with the increased production costs the bill would bring farmers.

Under the legislation passed by the House, the agriculture and forestry sectors are clearly exempt from the bill's greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements, which means that farmers, ranchers and forestland owners will not be subject to the greenhouse gas emissions cap.

The bill establishes an agricultural and forestry offset program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that will work with farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to design and implement plans that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon on their operations. Farmers, ranchers and forestland owners will earn offsets for these actions, and they can sell the credits to utilities, refiners, or other firms subject to limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The offset program run by USDA creates a new market opportunity for farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who can play an important role in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States," Peterson said. "Farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners have been participating in conservation and carbon sequestration programs for many years, working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, and support a thriving renewable energy industry. This legislation recognizes those efforts and encourages these important activities."

The bill also boosts the renewable fuels industry by eliminating regulatory requirements that restrict U.S. renewable energy production. It prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from holding U.S. biofuels producers responsible for deforestation or other land use changes in other countries, and it expands the availability of biomass for energy production by improving the definition of what qualifies as renewable biomass. It also includes a program that will help fund the installation of blender pumps, making clean-burning renewable fuels available to more Americans.

"This bill promotes homegrown, clean burning renewable fuels, which is one of the best things we can do for the economy and the environment," Peterson said.

In future postings I'll go through why some in agriculture have supported the bill and why others haven't.

The Senate is now starting its work on its climate change legislation. Senate Environmental and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer has scheduled a hearing on "Moving America Toward a Clean Energy Economy•bCrLf on July 7.

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