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Administration officials urge Senate to pass a climate bill

Four Obama administration cabinet members, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urged the Senate Tuesday to follow the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would set up a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Vilsack told the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee that USDA is well-positioned to help administer a carbon trading program that could benefit farmers and play a significant role in capturing carbon.

U.S. agriculture already captures much more carbon than it puts out, Vilsack said. But that’s not the case in some developing nations and U.S. agricultural technology can play a role in lowering their carbon footprint, he said. And he sees more jobs for rural America coming from the development of wind energy, fuel from biomass and other new technologies promoted in climate legislation.

Some members of the panel appeared skeptical of USDA's ability to oversee agriculture’s participation in cap and trade.

"We are already partnering on a number of environmental issues," Vilsack assured Senator Tom Carper (D-DE). And unlike other federal agencies, USDA is "unique in its ability to be in virtually every county in the country."

Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) said he’s hearing almost unanimous opposition from his constituents to the House climate bill.

"The strong signal the bill seems to be sending to farmers in agricultural states is that they’re going to be facing higher costs," Bond said. He asked Vilsack if the USDA has an economic analysis of the cost of the bill to agriculture. Vilsack said the Department is completing an analysis of the House bill.

Vilsack added that new seed technology that increases yields and requires fewer inputs will help cut the effect of higher energy costs caused by the bill and that farmers will have new markets for agricultural wastes as new technologies for bioenergy develop. "I think we are on the cusp of a rivitalization of rural America," he said.

Vilsack was joined by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

As in the House, the Senate committee's approach to dealing with global warming and energy independence showed a strong partisan split, with Republicans saying the House bill would hurt a weak economy and send jobs to nations that have no climate legislation, especially China.

"It's very obvious that China has said they're not going to be involved in this," said the committee’s ranking Republican, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. During negotiations for the Kyoto climate accord, China demanded $140 billion a year from developed countries to participate, Inhofe said.

Four Obama administration cabinet members, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urged the Senate Tuesday to follow the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would set up a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But there were areas of agreement. Democrat Carper of Delaware said he favors more development of nuclear energy, which Republicans say didn't get enough support in the House Bill. And Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, shares some of the GOP populist distrust of the process of trading carbon credits.

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