Fed agencies release series of climate change promisesWritten by Christy Martinez
“Science overwhelmingly shows greenhouse gas concentrations at unprecedented levels due to human activity.”
That’s according to the early December statement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which announced the agency’s opinion that greenhouse gases (GHG’s) threaten public health and the welfare of American people.
The statement came amidst a flurry of other press releases from federal agencies regarding emissions, climate change and promises of millions of dollars of funding for research in the years ahead. The announcements coincided with the international discussion on climate change held mid-December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Dec. 7 EPA announcement drew disagreement and opposition from many ag groups, one of them the American Meat Institute (AMI).
“AMI does not support EPA’s Endangerment Finding, as the final rule is mostly based on future greenhouse gas concentrations, anticipated climate changes and adverse public health and welfare effects that are expected to result from elevated temperatures, air quality changes, effects of extreme events on society, climate-sensitive diseases and aeroallergens,” says Mark Dopp, AMI’s Senior Vice President Regulatory Affairs and general counsel, in a prepared statement.
Dopp continued, “This final rule could expose large sectors of the economy to significant corporate liability for producing products that purportedly endanger health and welfare.”
In addition to EPA’s finding, USDA released a climate change impact report entitled “The Effects of Climate Change on U.S. Ecosystems.” It details the potential effects of climate change on agriculture, land and water resources, as well as biodiversity.
The USDA report lists problems that would arise should climate change happen, from problems with grain and oilseed crops and the marketable yield of horticultural crops to livestock mortality and weeds.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a former secretary of agriculture under President Bush, has skewered USDA’s testimony and analysis on climate legislation.
“While our farmers will be sitting on the sidelines, planting productive acres into trees, our global competitors, unencumbered by the cap-and-trade dagger, will be planting more crops,” Johanns has stated. “This is not a vision for American agriculture, it’s a death sentence.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, agreed, emphasizing his criticism of cap and trade legislation during the Senate Ag Committee to hold more hearings in 2010.
From Wyoming, Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says the finding isn’t of immediate threat, but adds, “These things start in stages, and one thing leads to another.”
And, in addition to the EPA and USDA announcements, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Dec. 15, from Copenhagen, that a memorandum of understanding had been reached between USDA and Dairy Management, Inc. – part of the dairy checkoff – to reduce GHG’s through the installation of methane gas digesters on dairy farms by 25 percent by 2020.
According to Vilsack, the USDA will use various grant and loan programs to help dairy farmers manage livestock waste, partially by making the application process smoother. The agreement does not create additional funding, but allows the USDA to target and expedite existing programs such as EQIP and REAP toward greater energy efficiency and GHG reductions.
Vilsack says U.S. agriculture produces seven percent of U.S. GHG emissions, but can be “25 percent of the solution.”
Currently, fewer than 150 digesters operate on U.S. dairy farms. The hope is that more than 1,000 digesters will be built. Research shows one 700-cow dairy can generate enough electricity to power 200 homes. The initial target is to have digesters installed on larger operations of more than 1,000 head, which account for 10 percent of the nation’s dairy operators.
Magagna says his concern is the dairy industry has agreed to reducing emissions. “It can’t be far behind that they’ll pressure our cattle feeders,” he says.
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says he’s always argued the cow/calf industry is safe from such regulation, because the only difference in grazing in the West now compared to 200 years ago is the kind of animal. “There’s the same number of animals, and the same amount of forage,” he says.
Magagna says these climate change declarations are being made without any real input for people in the industry – those in the country who can actually make it happen.
He adds, “These decisions are being made without an economic analysis, and that’s worrisome to me when we start making promises for an industry without knowing the impact on the viability of the industry.”
On Dec. 16 USDA announced more funding for climate change research as part of a 20-country “Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases” (GRA) of Copenhagen origins.
Over the next four years, USDA will expand agricultural climate change mitigation research by $90 million and contribute this research to the GRA, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced.
The increase will raise USDA’s agricultural climate change mitigation research portfolio to over $130 million over the next four years, up from a base level of funding of just over $10 million in fiscal 2009. USDA expects to invest over $320 million in the next four years on climate change mitigation and adaptation research for agriculture.
The countries that have agreed to participate in the GRA thus far include Australia, Canada, Columbia, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Vietnam.
With the meetings in Copenhagen winding down by Dec. 18, Vilsack warned there would be further announcements on international agreements involving agriculture and food security.
USDA is expected to release its final analysis by Dec. 31 regarding the impact the House of Representatives climate legislation will have on U.S. agriculture.