Peterson Op-Ed: Amendments to Climate Change Bill Were Necessary

July 16, 2009
Press Release

This year, when the House began to write climate change legislation, it was clear to me that if I didn’t get involved in this process, the needs of agriculture, forestry and rural communities would not be addressed.

Ultimately, greenhouse gas emissions are probably going to be regulated, whether Congress acts or not.  In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions if they are found to endanger public health or welfare. The Supreme Court required EPA to determine if they are a public health hazard or not, and earlier this year, the EPA put out a proposed finding that says greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health and welfare.

With or without Congressional action, EPA will be free to regulate greenhouse gases, resulting in one of the largest and most bureaucratic nightmares that the U.S. economy and Americans have ever seen. And, with EPA in the lead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, arguably the voice of agriculture and rural America , would be left out of the process. Let me be clear, this is not a responsibility we want to leave in the hands of EPA.  

That’s why I decided to get involved and work with my colleagues in Congress to be sure that agriculture and rural America had a seat at the table when this climate change legislation was written. As a result, we were able to amend several important provisions that made the bill a better deal for agriculture and rural America .

First, we insisted that agriculture and forestry be specifically exempt from any cap on emissions. Agricultural production is an extremely energy intensive industry that is estimated to produce seven percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Regulating emissions from farms, ranches and forestland across the country would be cumbersome, incredibly expensive, and would yield very limited benefits.  So we made sure that the exemption was clear – there will be no taxes on cows or any segment of agriculture or forestry.

Second, the climate change bill will allow agricultural producers to participate in a voluntary, USDA-run, market-based carbon offset program that allows them to earn money for practices that they implement to sequester carbon or avoid greenhouse gas emissions. It was important that USDA and not EPA be in charge of establishing and operating this offset program so that it would be easy for farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to participate.

Third, the amendment allows USDA to determine what the best practices are for carbon sequestration. Under the original bill, only new activities could be counted as beneficial. We made sure that farmers and ranchers who currently participate in USDA conservation programs, or who have already undertaken carbon sequestration activities will receive offset credits for their efforts. We also made sure that those who have already participated in voluntary offset registries for carbon sequestration, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange and their partners, are also compensated.

Fourth, for rural areas that rely on rural electric co-ops and small municipal utilities, we corrected a problem with the original bill, which did not provide enough credits to these electric providers.  We understood the need to ensure that Midwestern providers would have additional credits as they begin to implement additional energy efficiency measures. 

Finally, the amended bill will prevent EPA from imposing unfair requirements on the biofuels industry that holds biofuels producers responsible for international changes in land use, such as deforestation in other countries. It is unreasonable to say that ethanol production in this country is causing trees to be cut down in Brazil . There’s no reliable way to measure these land use changes, so we changed language in the bill to stop these regulations until a study can be done to see if these changes can be accurately measured. Then the EPA and USDA will determine whether the economic models and science needed to back up international Indirect Land Use Change measurements are sufficient. 

At the end of the day, I know the climate change bill the House passed isn’t perfect.  But it’s much better than it would have been if I hadn’t made it more farm-friendly, and it’s certainly better than if Congress had not acted and just let EPA bureaucrats regulate everything under the sun. Let me be clear, however, that these amendments I negotiated must be in place as this legislative process unfolds, or I will not support a final bill.