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Senate overwhelmingly passes ag climate bill

Senate overwhelmingly passes ag climate bill
Uphill climb possible as House Republicans not supportive of the farmer-focused Growing Climate Solutions Act approved in Senate.

When the Senate can achieve 55 co-sponsors and 92 votes in favor of a bill, it must be significant. And for farmers, the advanced Growing Climate Solutions Act fresh off the Senate floor could be beneficial in offering them new revenue streams for climate smart agricultural practices and start to offer solutions in a voluntary, producer-led foundation for addressing the climate.

“This is a very important part of the puzzle as we come together on addressing the climate crisis,” says lead author of the bill and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

The legislation targets three main roadblocks facing producers and landowners who want to participate in these markets, which are:

  • Uncertainty about how to implement projects or navigate carbon markets.
  • Uncertainty regarding trustworthy players in carbon markets.
  • Lack of agriculture or forestry expertise by existing carbon market participants.

As the carbon markets continue to seek steady footing on what a credit is worth and if farmers can improve their bottom line with participation, Stabenow says this bill would help verify, measure and quantify the impacts of climate smart practices and offer a “seal of approval from USDA.” It offers an important step toward improving the integrity of agricultural carbon credits and making it easier for farmers to participate in and benefit from carbon markets.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act would create a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers that prevent farmer and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets. Through the program, USDA would help connect landowners to private sector actors who can assist the landowners in implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices.

Landowner participation and the adoption of practices have been slowed by a lack of access to reliable information about private carbon markets, as well as too few qualified technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers.

“There hasn’t been a system in place that people can trust,” Stabenow adds. This creates the integrity, structure and expertise to move forward in carbon markets.

Another key component of the bill establishes an advisory board, consisting of predominantly farmers to ensure they’re the ones who benefit not those on Wall Street. Changes made to S. 1251 since its introduction would also ensure greater farmer representation on the USDA advisory panel on carbon markets that the legislation would establish.

Related: Landmark Growing Climate Solutions Act clears Senate

Similar legislation is led in the U.S. House by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. Stabenow says she’s confident the House will pass it.

“This bill is a terrific example of how members on both sides of the aisle can find common ground on addressing the major climate challenges we face. Our bill would break down longstanding barriers for farmers, ranchers, and foresters — and it would reward them for embracing smart practices that are good for the land and good for their bottom lines,” Spanberger says.

Following the overwhelming vote, Spanberger did say she was confident that the House Agriculture Committee will move quickly to advance the legislation to the floor of the House.

Although Senate Republicans offered widespread support for the GCSA, the House may prove different.

After passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act in the Senate, Republican leader of the House Agriculture Committee Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson of Pennsylvania says the bill is a “big-government solution in search of a problem. The consequences of government intrusion into voluntary carbon markets have not been adequately explored and Congress should continue educating itself and vetting these issues before legislating.”

Thompson and House Republicans are promoting alternatives solutions on how to address climate change including bills that incentivize healthy soils, precision agriculture technology, healthy forests and more public-private partnerships for climate solutions.

“Every bill introduced will reduce our carbon footprint and increase the productivity and economic competitiveness of our farms and rural communities—all without adding more red tape,” says Thompson.

Many groups supported the Senate action and urged the House to follow. The Growing Climate Solutions Act is supported by more than 75 agriculture, food, forestry and environmental groups that are part of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance and a total of over 175 organizations across the food, agriculture, forestry and conservation segments.

“We encourage members of the House to follow the Senate’s lead and work in a bipartisan manner to create responsible policy that protects the environment and protects the farmers and ranchers who rely on clean air and water to feed the nation,” says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and one of the founding members of FACA.

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