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Differing views on climate bill's future

Expensive fuel and fertilizer, or the salvation of the biofuels industry?

In a nutshell, that's how two different agricultural leaders view a climate bill that heads to the U.S. Senate after narrow passage in the House of Representatives last week.

A lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation thinks the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

"We don't anticipate that it will pass the Senate this year," Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher told Agriculture Online.

The Senate will soon begin to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, as well as continue to work on health care reform. With an already full agenda, and opposition from rural areas, Thatcher thinks a vote on climate change legislation is unlikely this year.

Farm Bureau applauds the efforts by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson to get USDA, not the EPA, to run the trading of carbon credits that farmers might sell to industries that emit greenhouse gases. But the group still opposes climate change legislation, viewing its costs as higher than potential benefits.

Farm Bureau doesn't believe a carbon credit trading program would provide enough income to counter expected higher costs for fuel and fertilizer, even if the Senate makes improvements in the bill.

"It's hard for me to believe they could change it enough in the Senate to make agriculture a winner," Thatcher said. "True commercial agriculture is not going to be a winner in this thing."

But commercial agriculture may have a vested stake in the climate bill through the ethanol industry, which already accounts for about a fourth of the crop, second only to feed use.

Tom Buis, CEO of the ethanol lobbying group, Growth Energy, told reporters Monday that he believes the Senate will take up energy legislation this fall after it deals with health care reform.

"I think the prospects are really good in the Senate for an energy bill of some type," Buis said.

One factor driving support for an energy bill is the fact that the House climate bill, thanks to Representative Peterson's efforts, would role back an EPA interpretation of the 2007 energy bill that ties ethanol's carbon footprint to the indirect land use concept. EPA is using a theory that increased corn and soybean acreage for biofuels encourages deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere in the world. According to the theory, cutting down rainforests releases more greenhouse gases than are saved by substituting ethanol and biodiesel for petroleum-based fuels, at least for several decades.

If the Senate passes a similar climate or energy bill, the legislation would prevent EPA from using indirect land use when it writes rules for mandates that require fuel blenders to use biofuels. EPA's proposed rule threatens to make new ethanol plants and all soybean oil-based biodiesel plants ineligible for the mandates.

"I think it threatens the production of ethanol and biodiesel and how we farm in American," said Buis, who was president of National Farmers Union before taking the job of Growth Energy CEO earlier this year.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said last week that his committee may hold a hearing on climate change legislation in early July.

Expensive fuel and fertilizer, or the salvation of the biofuels industry?

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