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Agricultural community struggles to deal with climate change legislation

Agriculture.com Staff 04/30/2009 @ 11:00pm

Climate change legislation remains a top goal of the Obama Administration, and the groups that lobby for farmers and ranchers in Washington are having a tough time dealing with it.

Even though California Congressman Henry Waxman is struggling to find enough fellow Democrats in his Energy and Commerce Committee to get a bill written by his goal of Memorial Day, other members of the House expect that chamber of Congress to pass some form of legislation this year.

When President Barack Obama visited a factory that makes wind generator towers Newton, Iowa on earth day, he made another pitch for a climate change bill.

"Now there's been some debate about this whole climate change issue, but it's serious," Obama said.

Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, who was at the event, told Agriculture Online that he expects the House to pass a climate change bill. "I wouldn't be surprised," he said. "It's going to be debated and discussed…and amended. That's what we do." But it's a priority in the House, he said.

Boswell isn't on Waxman's committee. He's on the House Agriculture Committee. And he's a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats, a group that has been skeptical about the potential costs to the economy and rural areas from a bill that aims to lower the use of gasoline and coal over time.

Facing that sense of inevitability, 19 key producer groups held a closed-door "commodity roundtable" on Wednesday that devoted a half-day to discussing the issue and debating different approaches. Some groups favor opposing both climate change legislation and any effort that the Environmental Protection Agency might take to lower greenhouse gas emissions through regulations. Others favor working with Waxman to get the most favorable bill for agriculture, one that would allow for trading of carbon credits that would reward farmers for using no-till or installing methane digesters in livestock operations, for example.

So far, only six of the 19 groups at the meeting have signed off on a list of "principles for greenhouse gas legislation - The American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union and National Milk Producers Federation.

Those are the groups in the camp that favors active engagement on climate change, although it doesn't necessarily mean they'll endorse the final form of a bill coming out of Waxman's committee.

"The American Soybean Association has concerns about the impact on agriculture and the profitability of our members," said Rob Joslin, a farmer from Sidney, Ohio and ASA first vice president. "It won't affect soybeans as much as corn because soybeans are not as fuel dependent as corn is."

"I think ASA believes we should be strongly involved in the discussion and when a bill comes forth, we'll have to take a position on it," Joslin told Agriculture Online. ASA organized the commodity roundtable.

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