Vilsack says a carbon bank fits into USDA’s portfolio
The USDA has the authority to create a so-called carbon bank to encourage climate mitigation on the farm, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday, but he is waiting for farmers’ ideas on how the bank should operate. Speaking at a farm conference, Vilsack said he was open to an increase in USDA spending power, if needed, to prevent a squeeze on money needed for the farm program.
President Biden has a goal of seeing American agriculture as the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases. There are recurrent suggestions that a USDA carbon bank could help farmers adopt climate-smart practices or even set a floor price for each ton of carbon sequestered into the soil or trees.
“Is this a bank that should pay for carbon credits? Is this a bank that should guarantee a price for credits? Is this a bank that potentially should finance the improvements to carbon sequestration and capture?” said Vilsack, speaking via internet to the Ag and Food Policy Summit. The USDA has opened a 45-day comment period preparatory to drafting a climate strategy for submission to the White House. “We obviously have to have input from farmers.”
Proponents say a carbon bank could be funded through the Commodity Credit Corp, a Depression-era agency known as USDA’s bank. It can spend up to $30 billion before asking Congress to replenish its account. The CCC pays farm subsidies and supports land stewardship programs. The CCC has broad authority to support farm income and commodity prices. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said he doubts USDA can set up a carbon bank without congressional approval.
“So it’s really designed for this kind of money,” said Vilsack, referring to climate mitigation, which would be a new agricultural market. Other USDA sources might be tapped for climate work, he said.
“Maybe it would be necessary for Congress to take a look at this thing (CCC funding) on a year-to-year basis,” said Vilsack, but he would try to avoid over-taxing CCC resources.