I have written about carbon trading and agricultural offsets for several years now, so I am not completely surprised by the House vote on Friday to pass the nation’s first carbon emissions legislation.
Since global warming has moved beyond speculation to hardball economics, entire nations and industries are seeking to help slow, stop and reverse greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed on Friday will require U.S. sources to reduce carbon emissions by 17% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.
What I am surprised about is the agriculture industry’s indignation and opposition to the legislation. Years ago, Kansas State University carbon expert Chuck Rice told me the handwriting was on the wall for some sort of cap on carbon emissions. “It’s critical that agriculture be involved in the discussion so that farmers can participate in a carbon market,” he said.
Well, this bill actually allows farmers the ability to fully participate in a carbon offset program – in other words, to get paid for farm activities that help reduce GHG emissions.
For those of us following climate legislation, this is a real boon for agriculture. Farmers might actually have a seat at the carbon offset table!
Better yet for agriculture, this legislation moves the oversight of carbon-reduction efforts by farmers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Department of Agriculture. Can you imagine the EPA regulating how you practice your no-till to keep carbon in the soil, or how you manage manure to reduce methane gases released into the atmosphere? The regulations would not likely be based in the reality of production agriculture.
“This is the best deal that agriculture could have gotten out of the House,” says Laura Sands, a partner at environmental consulting firm The Clark Group and a member of the Ag Carbon Market Working Group.
“In the end, if Congress doesn’t enact some type of greenhouse gas emissions policy, we’ve received a clear message that EPA will. Agriculture will fair much better through a cap-and-trade policy than regulation by EPA,” she adds.