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Most ag groups dislike Senate's version of a climate bill

Agriculture.com Staff 10/02/2009 @ 3:12pm

Almost universal disappointment.

That's the best way to describe how ag groups reacted this week to a cap and trade bill introduced in the Senate by the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who heads the Foreign Relations Committee.

"We opposed the House bill and we think this bill basically takes one step back from that," Rick Krause, the American Farm Bureau lobbyist working in clean air issues told Agriculture Online.

Like the House bill passed last summer, Boxer's bill includes a long list of agricultural practices that could bring payments for carbon credits--practices such as no-till and capturing methane on big livestock operations.

But the bill leaves the final decision to the President, he said.

"Everything is up to the discretion of the White House as to what gets on the list," he said.

Krause said Farm Bureau, which has been worried about higher fuel and fertilizer costs to farmers and ranchers from cap and trade legislation, is unlikely to support a final bill.

Most Washington insiders say the Boxer-Kerry bill is a starting point and that some of their concerns may be fixed as it moves through the Senate. Senator Tom Harkin, who has stepped down as the Senate Ag Committee Chairman to head the Health Committee, told Agriculture Online Thursday, "We've got a bunch of votes on the Ag Committee and they need our votes to get this passed."

But Krause, National Farmers Union and American Farmland Trust, are all disappointed that provisions in the House bill aimed at agriculture were left out of the Senate Bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson got the House bill amended to put USDA, instead of EPA, in charge of paying farmers and landowners for carbon offsets. The money would come from electric utilities, oil companies and other industries whose carbon dioxide emissions are limited, or capped. The Peterson amendment also prevents EPA from writing regulations for ethanol and biodiesel that include a theory that raising U.S. crops for those fuels leads to deforestation in the tropics. That so-called indirect land use change is strongly opposed by U.S. biofuel producers and commodity groups.

The Senate bill doesn't include Peterson's amendment.

"At least the House bill would have slowed EPA down," Krause said. Farm Bureau will try to get improvements for agriculture into the bill, he said.

Dennis Nuxoll of American Farmland Trust, a group that sees more opportunities for farmers in cap and trade than does Farm Bureau, agrees with Krause that it would have been better for agriculture if the Senate's starting point included Peterson's amendment.

Nuxoll doesn't think many farmers will participate in any carbon trading program if EPA runs it, and the bill calls for capturing two billion tons of carbon a year, in the U.S. and through credits sold to developing countries.

To get to that level, "that's tens of thousands of producers signing up," Nuxoll says.

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