DURING President Barack Obama's first term, agricultural interests feared that there would be rash regulations to curb climate change, and now, the stage is set for another push.
In his yearly "State of the Union" address, Obama pointed out that 12 of the hottest years on record have come in the last 15.
"Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods -- all are now more frequent and more intense," he said. "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy and the most severe drought in decades and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence, or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it's too late."
Obama claimed that meaningful progress can be made on addressing climate change while still driving economic growth. He urged Congress to find a market-based solution to climate change similar to what Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman proposed a few years ago.
Obama warned, though, that if Congress won't act, he will direct his Cabinet to come up with executive actions to reduce pollution and "speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
Sixty-five percent of Americans think that climate change is a serious problem, according to a national poll of 1,218 registered voters conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council immediately after the "State of the Union" speech.
Also, 58% said last year's weather events were the effects of climate change, 58% said the country should do more to address climate change and just 14% said the U.S. is doing enough already, the pollsters found.
Task force underway
A Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, co-chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D., Cal.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), is dedicated to focusing congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses that will help inform Congress and the federal government about the menu of options available to address climate change.
In a letter to the co-chairs, Dale Moore, executive director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), noted that while AFBF "recognizes that there may have been an increase in occurrences of extreme weather, we do not believe unilateral action by the United States can make a difference on global temperatures or stop devastating weather events."
AFBF said its members want the agricultural community to be included "as a full partner in the development of any policy or legislation."
AFBF said it would support market-based incentives such as pollutant credit trading and compensating farmers for planting crops or adopting farming practices that keep carbon in the soil or plant material.
AFBF voiced opposition to legislation that establishes mandatory cap-and-trade provisions or any law or regulation requiring an agricultural entity to report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It also said it would oppose any attempt to regulate methane emissions from livestock under the Clean Air Act or other legislative vehicle.
Moore added that AFBF "believes that there are tools and solutions that will make combating inclement weather less challenging without hindering our productivity or harming the U.S. economy."
National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson noted in a letter to the task force that while it is unlikely that every storm can be related to climate change, "the science is clear that if we do not act now to mitigate and adapt, our agricultural system and the country at large will be at risk."
NFU supports a comprehensive solution to mitigating climate change that rewards producers for sequestering GHGs. It supports a mandatory cap-and-trade system, but unlike a purely regulatory approach that would increase costs for farmers, NFU seeks a system similar to one the House passed in 2009.
"NFU understands that farmers and ranchers will need to bear some of the costs of implementing a climate change policy in the form of higher input costs. However, there need to be economic opportunities for our members to offset those higher prices," Johnson wrote.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the agriculture sector contributes 7% of total U.S. GHGs. However, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that the agriculture and forestry sectors currently sequester twice that amount, or about 15% of total annual GHGs in the U.S., and have the potential to sequester 20% of all annual GHGs, NFU wrote.
NFU said agriculture can play a significant role in a mandatory cap-and-trade system through carbon sequestration on agricultural lands as well as capturing emissions from stored manure at livestock facilities, citing its Carbon Credit Program as an example of how an offset program would work.
Since early 2006, NFU and the North Dakota Farmers Union have served as official aggregators of carbon credits through the Chicago Climate Exchange, where many Fortune 500 companies purchase carbon credits in order to boost their public image or help the environment.
Eighteen biofuel companies and organizations sent a letter to Whitehouse and Waxman reiterating the correlation between climate change and fossil fuels, saying, "We simply cannot address climate change if we do not reduce our consumption of oil, regardless of whether that oil comes from inside or outside our nation's borders."
They added that maintaining the federal renewable fuel standard helps to achieve the national security goal of energy independence, the environmental goal of reducing GHGs and the economic goal of job creation.
USDA seeks comments on climate change plan
TO better coordinate its sustainability efforts and build on past success to adapt to climate change, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has prepared its 2012 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan that underscores strategies and goals to save taxpayer dollars, reduce carbon emissions, cut waste and save energy.
As part of this effort, the agency also prepared a Climate Change Adaptation Plan that outlines how USDA will address the effects climate change has on its key mission areas, such as agricultural production, food security, rural development and forestry and natural resource conservation. The plan is open for a 60-day public comment period.
The Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which includes input from 11 USDA agencies and offices, provides a detailed vulnerability assessment, reviews the elements of USDA's mission that are at risk from climate change and provides specific actions and steps being taken to build resilience to climate change.
The plan calls for a 12.1% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 2008 base year and also for implementation of the National Water Quality Initiative in priority watersheds to improve water quality and aquatic habitat in impaired streams.
The plan advances President Barack Obama's efforts to prepare the federal government for climate change. USDA said it expects to revise and update the plan in 2013 in response to the public comments received.
USDA is encouraging the public to review the document and provide comments by April 8 to William Hohenstein, director of USDA's Climate Change Program Office, at [email protected] The USDA Climate Change Adaptation Plan can be accessed at www.dm.usda.gov/emd.