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Ag committee gives climate bill the cold shoulder

Agriculture.com Staff 06/12/2009 @ 9:10am

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was grilled for hours Thursday by a House Agriculture Committee that seems united across party lines in opposing the current form of a climate change bill written by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

And none of the farm group leaders who testified to the committee said their organizations would support the bill, either, unless agriculture and forestry are allowed to sell carbon credits, or offsets, to industries with large greenhouse gas output. And, if the bill is changed to include agricultural credits, all oppose putting the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of it.

Vilsack said that he believes farmers and ranchers will have the potential to benefit more from carbon trading than they will be hurt by rising costs for fertilizer and fuel that will come with a law designed to lower the release of greenhouse gases.

“This issue is too important for agriculture and forestry to sit on the sidelines,” Vilsack said.

But House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, who would like USDA in charge of running any agricultural carbon trading program, shared the skepticism of Republican members of the committee, who said the climate change bill would impose devastating cost increases for farmers.

“I think all of us on this committee believe that USDA should run an offset program but we’re having people tell us the USDA doesn’t have the expertise,” Peterson told Vilsack.

He asked Vilsack about a recent EPA study of the bill that “showed almost no benefits to what can be done with soil sequestration” of carbon.

“We think we can add additional information to the analysis that may very well change those numbers,” Vilsack said.

“We think we can add additional information to the analysis that may very well change those numbers,” Vilsack said.

“For your colleagues in the Administration, I think you should let them know that this kind of stuff is not helpful,” Peterson told Vilsack

He said he also disagrees with EPA’s analysis of the carbon footprint of biofuels, which includes its possible effect on rainforests in Brazil, “which I don’t think holds water at all.”

“This is why a lot of us on the committee don’t want the EPA anywhere near our farms,” Peterson said.

Peterson left the hearing long before it ended and, according a House staffer, met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). They’re continuing to discuss the bill.

Pelosi has said she wants the bill passed this summer, but the Ag Committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, urged a slower process, “to take the time to understand the consequences of our actions.”

When asked by several committee members if the USDA had analyzed the cost of the climate change bill to farmers and ranchers, Vilsack wasn’t able to provide an answer, saying that the EPA hasn’t finished its analysis yet.

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