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House ag leader scores big changes in climate bill for farmers

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) announced victories for farmers and the ethanol industry Wednesday after the end of a late-Tuesday negotiating session with Democratic leaders over a climate change bill that could come up for a vote by Friday.

"We think we have something here that could work for agriculture," Peterson said modestly to reporters, as he described some big concessions from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA). As Peterson and farm group lobbyists told Agriculture Online Wednesday, these are the key changes:

  • USDA, not the Environmental Protection Agency, would run a cap and trade program that would allow farmers and landowners to sell carbon credits to coal-fired power companies and other large emitters of greenhouse gases believed to be contributing to global warming.
  • Farmers who have already made changes in production, such as no-till, that would capture carbon, would get credit for those changes, going back to 2001, and they would be allowed to participate in any new cap and trade program.
  • For at least six years, EPA will not able to use an international indirect land use change when it estimates the carbon footprints of ethanol and biodiesel. Indirect land use threatened to make many existing biodiesel plants and new ethanol plants ineligible for government mandates that require gasoline and diesel blenders to use the biofuels. Under the compromise, that requirement will be taken out of the 2007 energy law and an independent group such as the National Academies of Science would review the science behind the theory that more corn acres for ethanol are leading to deforestation in the Amazon. After a five year review, Congress would have another year to study the issue before EPA could act.

And, Peterson said, USDA, EPA and the Department of Energy would have to agree on the effect of indirect land use on ethanol’s complete output of carbon dioxide.

"What that means is that USDA has veto power over this," Peterson said.

Dropping the indirect land use calculation is a major reason that Peterson will now work for the climate bill's passage, he said. "This is a huge deal to get that out of there," he said, referring to the 2007 law that requires EPA to calculate indirect land use effects. "I don't think we'll ever get that out any other way."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) announced victories for farmers and the ethanol industry Wednesday after the end of a late-Tuesday negotiating session with Democratic leaders over a climate change bill that could come up for a vote by Friday.

Much of the deadlock boiled down to distrust of agriculture by EPA and environmental groups and vice-versa, Peterson said.

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union, told Agriculture Online that his organization is leaning toward supporting the bill, after it gets a chance to see Peterson's negotiated changes in print.

Johnson and Jimmy Daukus, a lobbyist for American Farmland Trust, said that this latest compromise and possible passage of the bill by the House, is only the first step in the process. Johnson is pleased by reports that the Senate willl involve its agriculture committee chairman, Tom Harkin of Iowa, when it starts to consider its own climate change bill.

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