Senate Climate Change Bill Lacks Ag Provisions

Despite the release of the draft legislation, the Senate is not expected to take up climate change legislation this year.

This week the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee released the long awaited version of the Senate climate change bill, drawing concern from agriculture groups.

In June, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2454, the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. Sept. 30 Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., unveiled their new bill, titled The Clean Energy, Jobs and American Power Act,  that asks for greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than the House did.

Compared to the House-passed Waxman-Markey legislation, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 17%, the Senate bill seeks to cap greenhouse gas emissions at 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. President Obama is asking for a 14% cap.

Despite the release of the draft legislation, the Senate is not expected to take up climate change legislation this year. Controversial health care discussions will likely continue to take center stage for several more weeks.

Republicans, as well as many Democrats from rural areas, remain skeptical as to whether the U.S. can succuessfully move forward on climate change legislation without assurances from other world countries that they too will take steps. The other main contention point is whether agriculture will be able to offset some of the inevitable higher costs that will come from implementation of a cap-and-trade bill.

The bill fails to address the indirect land use issue, a major victory for agriculture House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson won in the House's version. During House negotiation on the climate change bill, Peterson included multiple protections for the agriculture industry. Peterson added a provision to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the indirect land use calculations of the renewable fuels standard until more information is known. The Boxer-Kerry bill moves ahead with indirect land use calculations for biofuels.

Agriculture leaders also want to make sure any offsets program that farmers participate in would be run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since USDA already has access to needed farm information and a working relationship with farmers. However, the latest Senate version puts control of the offsets program in the hands of EPA.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., ranking republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, came out against the bill.

"As I have stated many times before, I want to support legislation that addresses climate change and provides a more secure energy future for America. Unfortunately, the legislation introduced by Senators Boxer and Kerry follows the House-passed bill down the path of higher energy costs, job losses and economic pain for no benefit. Further, it would only hurt farmers, ranchers and forest landowners and provide them no opportunity to recoup the higher costs they will pay for energy and the other inputs necessary to work the land."

Kansas Republican Pat Roberts who sits on the Senate Agriculture and Finance Committees, said he will continue to fight against such proposals that ship jobs overseas, ration domestic energy and result in greater government bureaucracy. "It is not in the best interests of the United States to unilaterally undertake mandatory carbon reductions until developing countries like China, India and Brazil agree to the same," he said.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and former agriculture secretary called the bill "an assault on agriculture. It is to the left of Speaker Pelosi and to the left of the President. It will lead to higher taxes, higher energy costs, a tighter squeeze on disposable income, more lost jobs and lower standards of living. For agriculture, the costs are real and the benefits are theoretical--our country's heartland is in the crosshairs of this national energy tax."

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