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Alliance including farm groups seeks tax credits to fight climate change

Agriculture accounts for roughly 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The government would create a range of tax credits to encourage carbon sequestration in the soil and forests, deploy “digesters” nationwide to convert manure into energy, and work more aggressively to reduce food waste if it follows the recommendations of farm, conservation and food retail groups released on Tuesday. The newly formed Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance aimed its 51-page report at President-elect Biden, who has named climate change as one of his four priorities for attention during the transition.

Because the alliance built its recommendations around voluntary action and “market-driven opportunities,” such as carbon trading, it promoted steps such as the creation of a USDA carbon bank to establish a floor price for carbon sequestration and reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The alliance also said it pursued policies that increase rural resilience to climate change.

“We are proud to have broken through historical barriers to form this unique alliance focused on climate policy,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the founders of the alliance. “For me, I knew it was important to have policies that respect our farmers, among other priorities.” Farm-sector opposition helped to stymie previous proposals in Congress to mitigate climate change.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Separately, the Bipartisan Policy Center said former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia would chair its Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force to identify opportunities on U.S. farms and forests to mitigate climate change. “Rural Americans are seeing the effects of climate change in prolonged droughts, shifting growing seasons, and wildfires,” said Heitkamp, a Democrat who is frequently mentioned as a possible Biden nominee for agriculture secretary.

Biden says recovery from the pandemic will bring “the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy — one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.” His plan includes far-reaching investments to “create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience and conservation.”

“What you are seeing put in front of you are the issues that unite us,” said FACA  co-chair Chuck Conner, head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, during an online news conference. “They do not address the carbon tax issue.”

Two commonly promoted ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems. Under carbon taxes, the government sets a price on each ton of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases that are emitted as an inducement to reduce emissions. A cap-and-trade system would set a gradually declining limit on greenhouse gas emissions with the opportunity for companies that are below the limit to sell allowances to companies that need to offset emissions that are above the limit.

Among the alliance’s’ recommendations were:

  • A tax credit for carbon captured by farms
  • The creation of the USDA carbon bank
  • A one-time payment to “early adopters” of carbon sequestration techniques
  • A tax credit for forestry owners who adopt USDA-approved practices that sequester carbon in trees
  • A tax credit for construction materials that have a lower carbon footprint
  • Tax credits to encourage anaerobic digesters on livestock farms
  • Expansion of a program that encourages energy production and conservation on the farm
  • Increased attention to carbon sequestration on pasture and rangeland
  • Encouraging food makers to adopt a common “use by” format to reduce waste
  • Putting more emphasis on reducing food waste in nutrition education programs

The alliance supported the passage of a bipartisan Senate bill, the Growing Climate Solutions Act, for USDA to provide information about carbon sequestration. It would also certify so-called technical assistance providers who work with farmers on carbon-reduction projects, and certify independent agents who would verify lower carbon emissions as well as carbon sequestration in the soil.

The Farm Bureau, the NCFC, the National Farmers Union and the Environmental Defense Fund founded the alliance in February. The group expanded to include The Nature Conservancy, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, FMI — the Food Industry Association, and the National Alliance of Forestry Owners.

The alliance’s report is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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