Impact of Federal Climate Legislation On Agriculture Posted: September 20, 2009
Carbon Management and Agriculture: Impact of Federal Climate Legislation On Kentucky?s Agricultural Sector
Tom FitzGerald, Director, Kentucky Resources Council
Kentucky Form on Carbon Sequestration Through Agriculture and Forestry, September 10, 2009
The role of agriculture and forestry in addressing carbon management is a critical issue, and I appreciate being asked to address, very briefly, the potential effects of the pending Waxman-Markey bill on the agricultural and silvicultural sectors.
The agricultural sector in America is likely one of the most vulnerable sectors to the effects of climate change, and it for that reason that the Waxman-Markey bill does not directly regulate agriculture, but instead offers agriculture a prominent role in the near and mid-term as an important part of the solution to addressing the need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas loading into the atmosphere.
To begin, Kentucky is ground zero among the 50 states in terms of climate change and the monetization of carbon and other GHG. We are the 46th poorest among the states, and 98% dependent for our electricity on fossil fuels. The agricultural sector is faced with some particularly daunting challenges, as recognized recently by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a joint effort of 13 federal agencies (including the USDA) which in June 2009 released a report entitled Global Climate Change Impacts In The United States making these key findings:
1. Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, but higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields,
2. Extreme events such as heavy downpours and droughts are likely to reduce crop yields because excesses or deficits of water have negative impact on plant growth;
3. Weeds, diseases, and insect pests benefit from warming, and weeds also benefit from a higher carbon dioxide concentration, increasing stress on crop plants and requiring more attention to pest and weed control;
4. Increased heat, disease, and weather extremes are likely to reduce livestock productivity; and
5. Forage quality in pastures and rangelands generally declines with increasing carbon dioxide concentration because of the effects on plant nitrogen and protein content, reducing the lands ability to supply adequate livestock feed.
There is enough in the current Waxman-Markey bill iteration for everyone to love and hate. But there is far more in the bill for agriculture to love than to hate. As noted in the excellent synopsis of the effect of Waxman-Markey on agriculture prepared in July, 2009 by the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, agriculture is made part of the solution in addressing climate change through incentives, offsets, and investment in bioenergy.
Title III of the American Clean Energy and Security Act provides incentives in the form of emission allowances for agricultural projects that reduce GHG emissions, sequester carbon, and which prevent conversion of lands that would increase GHG.
An offset program, to be managed by USDA, provides for carbon offsets to be created from better management of crops and animal waste, sequestration in the soil, afforestation and better forest management, and other practices that the USDA determines provide carbon offsets.
The current Renewable and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard for electricity generation includes agricultural sector energy efficiency and biomass energy. Additionally, there are incentives for wind generated on agricultural lands, and an exemption from biofuels from the cap and trade system, which does including liquid fossil fuels under the cap.
In all, Congress recognizes that the untested nature of geologic sequestration, and the lack of feasible removal of CO2 from existing power plant emissions, among other factors, make agricultural and silvicultural measures to sequester and offset carbon and other GHG emissions an important short- and mid-term GHG control strategy.
What do we need to do in Kentucky to help enhance the agricultural sectors ability to contribute to a carbon management strategy?
First, we need to be ready to capitalize on these opportunities, by bringing together to disseminating information on these programs and opportunities for carbon management and sequestration to the agricultural community through our land-grant universities, government agencies, soil and water conservation districts, NRCS offices and other providers, including agricultural trade and farmer's associations;
Second, we need to add to our state agricultural development funding and university research priorities, agricultural GHG emission mitigation and carbon management. The current funding priorities of diversification of crops and productivity need to be broadened.
Third, we need to create a more honest approach to evaluating energy impacts and pricing energy. We need to internalize life-cycle costs in order to transparently and honestly price choices in energy, ending direct and indirect subsidies for coal-fired power or at least creating parity with low-impact hydro, energy produced by other renewables, and sustainably produced bioenergy. We need to be cognizant of the very real potential for investments in agriculture and silviculture directed at biofuels and bioenergy, to negatively impact water availability, food production and costs, habitat diversity and ecological integrity of woodlands, and to introduce and spread invasive species.
Fourth, we need to work with the electric distribution cooperatives that serve the majority of the agricultural community, to assure that the agricultural sector is not forgotten when considering how to use the allowances given to the co-ops under Waxman-Markey.
Finally, we need to be prepared to mitigate the potential for near-term cost increases in fuels and fertilizer by investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable practices within the agricultural sector.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
KRC thanks the Pew Center for Climate Change for the July 2009 paper "Agriculture - What the Waxman-Markey Bill Does for Agriculture," available on line at www.pewclimate.org.