By Coleman Garrison
Even though Congressional buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID 19, this hasn’t slowed down Congress’s focus on climate change and the role the agricultural and forestry industry can to do reduce emissions or sequester carbon. In addition to President Biden’s Executive Order and the subsequent public comment period that just ended on April 29, new legislation is being introduced on an almost daily basis, and NACD’s Government Affairs team has been working hard to stay on top of it all.
The one piece of legislation that is getting the most attention is the Growing Climate Solutions Act. This legislation, introduced in this Congress as well as last Congress, was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), as well as Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee and Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE). This legislation’s stated purpose is to help producers overcome barriers they face to access the financial and conservation opportunities that private carbon markets could provide. If passed, USDA would be required to publish a list of recognized protocols for voluntary environmental credit markets and set up a certification process that third party technical assistance and verification providers could follow to self-certify that they have expertise in these protocols. The legislation would also require USDA to create an Advisory Committee for the Secretary to consult during the creation of the protocol list and certification process.
The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the legislation on April 22, 2021, though the future of the legislation is much more uncertain on the House side. House Agriculture Chairman David Scott (D-GA) has not endorsed the bill and Ranking Member GT Thompson (R-PA) has indicated he’s opposed. While NACD is excited about the opportunities private carbon markets could provide to further natural resource protection and address climate change, NACD has not endorsed the path this legislation would take to support private carbon markets and continues to promote the role of the locally-led conservation delivery system and the importance of adequate Conservation Technical Assistance funding regardless of any opportunities the private sector could provide.
Other legislation recently introduced includes the Climate Stewardship Act from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Spanberger and the Ag Resiliency Act from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Each piece of legislation would provide significant increases to farm bill programs, including up to $7 billion per year for both the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in the Climate Stewardship Act. However, each bill would also require that these increased programs be modified and only direct these dollars to specific practices or limit how much of the program could go to other practices such as those that address natural resource concerns from livestock operations or structural practices. Conservation districts were founded to lead the locally-led process to ensure that natural resource concerns, and the associated practices to address them, can be tailored in each part of the country. NACD is excited to see increased focus on the work that farm bill conservation programs do to address natural resources and recognition of the need to provide additional funding. We will continue advocacy efforts in support of these working lands programs and the locally-led conservation delivery system.