Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis unveiled a comprehensive action plan Tuesday to promote a clean energy economy and combat climate change. The report lays out a series of policy recommendations for Congress aimed at significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the decades ahead.
One of the main tenets of the plan is to help farmers and ranchers implement soil health practices that make their lands more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as extreme rainfall and drought.
In a one-page summary on agriculture, the plan notes that American agriculture has the potential to become a significant carbon sink and a crucial part of the climate solution. Climate stewardship practices, such as no-till and low-till farming, cover crops, diversified crop rotations, rotational grazing and improved nutrient management, increase carbon sequestration in roots and soils and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Specifically, the plan calls on Congress to increase carbon sequestration and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by boosting spending for new and existing conservation programs to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers eager to deploy climate stewardship practices.
It also calls for an expansion of U.S. Department of Agriculture resources, research and partnerships to provide more education, outreach and technical assistance to agricultural producers. In addition, it calls for additional support for on-farm renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to help farmers reduce on-farm fuel use and emissions.
The plan seeks to preserve farmland from development and prevent the conversion of natural spaces to agricultural use in order to maximize carbon sequestration. Financial and technical challenges often can be barriers to farmers and ranchers in implementing conservation practices. Many farmers also must contend with encroaching development and may see selling their lands as the best path forward.
The recommendations ask Congress to increase support for beginning, young and socially disadvantaged farmers and to incorporate climate-smart agriculture into programs for new farmers.
The plan also calls for efforts to reduce food waste and transportation emissions by supporting local and regional food systems and developing waste reduction goals and initiatives.
"The report highlights the tools and resources Congress must provide to equip farmers to adapt to extreme weather and to contribute to the climate solution through carbon sequestration, emissions reductions and increased resilience,” National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) policy director Eric Deeble said. “As Congress moves forward with climate legislation, NSAC urges legislators to include agriculture proposals such as those outlined in the select committee's report. Sustainable and regenerative approaches not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon; they also provide additional environmental and economic benefits to farmers, ranchers and rural communities.”
Ethanol included in strategy
Renewable fuels, such as ethanol, are included as one key piece of the strategy. Among the report’s many recommendations are development of a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS), broad deployment of carbon capture and storage and incentivizing increased agricultural carbon sequestration.
Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA) president and chief executive officer Geoff Cooper said, at first blush, the report offers an important acknowledgment about reducing carbon impacts from the nation’s transportation sector.
“RFA agrees with the committee that widespread use of liquid fuels and internal combustion engines will continue for decades to come, and we welcome the recommendation to create a nationwide technology- and feedstock-neutral low-carbon fuel standard,” Cooper said. “The committee correctly points out that the LCFS policy model already has a proven track record and that renewable fuels have played a crucial role in achieving the objectives of the California LCFS. We also concur with the committee’s position that high-octane, low-carbon fuels could deliver substantial carbon benefits at a low cost in the years ahead.”
While the report offers only broad recommendations, Cooper underscored that the yet-to-be-developed details surrounding potential implementation of the recommendations will be crucially important.
“The big picture presented in the report is promising, but the devil is always in the details, and those details won’t be hammered out until the committees of jurisdiction begin crafting legislation based on these recommendations,” he said. Cooper cited life-cycle assessment methods, the carbon intensity reduction curve, land use measures and the interaction of a national LCFS with state programs and the national Renewable Fuel Standard as examples of “details that matter.”
In 2018, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) issued a white paper -- “The Case for Properly Valuing the Low Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol” -- illustrating how life-cycle modeling needs to better reflect modern-day farming practices and ethanol production technologies and why increasing ethanol use is part of the solution to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, ACE helped lead a diverse set of stakeholders in developing a framework to encourage new low-carbon fuel markets in the Midwest. Its January 2020 report, “A Clean Fuels Policy for the Midwest,” describes how properly crafted policy can spur low-carbon fuels, reduce costs to consumers and provide meaningful economic benefits to farmers and biofuel producers.
“The select committee’s report not only cites our Midwest clean fuel policy framework as a positive example of progress; it also mirrors our recommendations to reflect the best-available science for life-cycle assessments and reward farmers and biofuel producers using climate-smart practices that reduce carbon emissions, store soil carbon and reduce nitrous oxide emissions,” ACE CEO Brian Jennings said. “While the select committee also recommends what it describes as a ‘zero-emission vehicle’ standard, we believe a new vehicle program needs to be technology neutral and include production of more flexible-fuel vehicles that can take full advantage of carbon-negative ethanol fuels.”