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Climate bill pace in Senate speeds up

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Thursday that if the Senate passed health care legislation by October, it's possible that it will also pass climate change legislation before an international meeting on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

Harkin said that he plans to hold a hearing on climate change in early July, and that he has been assured by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he will be involved in planning Senate legislation from the beginning, a contrast to the House, where Democrats as well as Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee felt their concerns were being ignored until the committee chairman, Collin Peterson (D-MN) negotiated changes in the House bill this week.

"I just don't think they’ve paid enough attention to agriculture in this whole thing," said Harkin, who said he would prefer to simply tax carbon emissions, because it's a less complex approach than setting up a trading system that allows industries that emit greenhouse gases to buy offsets."

But he's been told that's not a realistic approach, Harkin said.

When asked about changes that the Senate might make in a bill that could be passed by the House as early as tomorrow, Harkin said he expected strong interest in the Senate.

"Keep in mind that every Senator has rural areas. That's not true in the House of Representatives," he said.

Harkin said he wants to make sure that agriculture and rural America are treated fairly in climate change legislation.

Harkin seems to support a change in the 2007 energy law worked out in the House by Peterson. It puts a hold of at least 6 years on the ability of the EPA to measure the carbon footprint of biofuels by including a concept of international indirect land use, which assumes that when land in the U.S. is planted to crops for biofuels, tropical rain forests and grasslands are converted to cropland. During that time the indirect land use concept will get scientific review and the USDA, DOE and EPA would all have to agree on whether it can be used or not.

"What I'm worried about is this whole idea of indirect land use," Harkin said. "To me it's kind of a nutty idea." More than 100 scientists have questioned the validity of trying to tie U.S. biofuel practices to land changes in other nations, he said.

Harkin said that he wants to make certain that farmers who use good conservation practices are treated fairly under a cap and trade system.

"I'm also concerned that farmers would not be accorded the kind of credits they should have for carbon sequestration," he said.

The House bill still limits how many carbon offset credits would be sold to farmers and forest landowners, but Peterson said Wednesday that he thinks the limit is so high it won't be reached.

Farm organizations remain divided on the House cap and trade legislation. Today the National Farmers Union and American Farmland Trust announced support for the bill, if it includes the amendments Peterson has negotiated. The National Corn Growers Association supports the amendments but is neutral on passage of the bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation hasn't announced a position yet, but its staff has told Agriculture Online that it will still opposed the bill due to remaining concerns about its possible economic cost.

The National Pork Producers Council said on Thursday that the group supports Peterson's amendments but opposes the bill, in part because, "the organization doesn't believe that revenues from the sale of offset credits for the majority of pork producers would counterbalance the energy and input cost increases associated with bill." The American Soybean Association also opposes ultimate passage of the bill, citing concern about costs.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Thursday that if the Senate passed health care legislation by October, it's possible that it will also pass climate change legislation before an international meeting on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

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