July 06, 2021 Art Cullen | The Storm Lake Times
Necessity may have more than one child: invention and bipartisanship. Just before it took a holiday break, the U.S. Senate on a 92-8 vote approved the Growing Climate Solutions Act that paves the way for a national carbon credit trading market. The bill, cultivated in the Agriculture Committee, instructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish credible scientific framework under which polluters like coal power plants could buy offsets from farmers and foresters who sequester carbon in grass, trees and soil.
The bill was sponsored by Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., a conservative with unimpeachable Trump credentials. The third-ranking Republican, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, voted for the bill despite having pledged to make Joe Biden a “half-term president.” Biden supports the bill. So does Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The Farm Bureau and Farmers Union on right and left agree that farmers should get paid for environmental services. So do 175 big agribusinesses and environmental groups who signed on to the legislation. The Chicago traders are on board with climate action, seeing as how they can skim a profit from the margins. Cargill is working with the Practical Farmers of Iowa on sustainable ag practices like cover crops. With California on fire and the Great Plains running dry, everyone is keen on turning around the battleship and realizing there is money to be made.
Hence, heads come together in the Capitol.
The carbon credit legislation is the first step of a country mile in agribusiness acknowledging that we have a food security crisis. Four years ago, Stabenow couldn’t even get a hearing on global warming; she had to call it a hearing on “extreme weather.” Times change. Floods and droughts are routine. Farmers in western Iowa are getting a full taste. The smart money has concluded, after the huge shock to the food system in the pandemic, that we need to build in some resiliency — and not a moment too soon.
The science is not settled on carbon sequestration in the soil. Many environmentalists believe it’s greenwashing — corporations could buy cheap carbon offsets from farmers who aren’t really sequestering that much carbon. USDA is expanding its research into the question. Science can confirm carbon sequestration, but it varies widely depending on soil types, plant species and cultivation techniques.
Without a hard federal cap or a tax on emissions a carbon trading market remains an experiment in paying farmers for conservation stewardship.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes it could be an important revenue stream among many to incent farmers to net-zero carbon emissions. He and Stabenow believe that a different approach to the land can make it more productive while capturing excess greenhouse gas. Each of them are trying to pull along corporate interests that can make or break climate initiatives, while trying to hold the environmental base.
The Senate Ag Committee is a bastion of bipartisanship driven more by regional interests than partisanship. The Midwest takes care of corn, the South tends its cotton. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., can embrace over ethanol. And, they spread their work to the Justice Committee where they are loading for bear over beef markets. They want at least half the nation’s cattle traded in open markets as opposed to contracted production. Stabenow is working with Republicans like Grassley on promoting wind and solar energy. Sen. John Hoeven, D-ND and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM, are arguing for increased land-grant university ag research funding, a critical area long ignored.
They’re doing it because their donors and farm base are demanding it. Our food production capacity is in peril now, not tomorrow. The new farm bill will be written with a much stronger emphasis on conservation over sheer crop and livestock production. It can make a real contribution to water pollution and the climate crisis fast.
The Senate certainly is acting with more urgency than just four years ago. The pandemic relief bills were enormous and passed with lightning speed. We are reshoring critical drug and computer component manufacturing from China — that vote, too, was overwhelmingly bipartisan. Biden just endorsed a bipartisan infrastructure deal. He will get Republican support on subsequent climate infrastructure bills because we have no other choice. The temperature hit 120 degrees last weekend — in the Arctic Circle!
The people recognize it. So does capital. Politics follows.