Senate approves climate legislation on a 92-to-8 vote

The recent passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act in the United States Senate has gained quick endorsement by organizations tied to farmers and ranchers.

The act has 55 cosponsors, which makes it the first major piece of bipartisan legislation bipartisan legislation that would help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience through voluntary, market-driven programs, according to a news release from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The Senate approved the bill on a 92-to-8 vote. The act was supported by the 75 agriculture, food, forestry and environmental groups that are members of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance.

“We appreciate lawmakers putting aside their differences to work on bipartisan solutions on the challenges facing farmers and ranchers,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “The Growing Climate Solutions Act acknowledges the potential of climate-smart farming while ensuring farmers would be respected as partners who can build on our strong foundation of environmental stewardship.”

The AFBF said the legislation provides clarity and guidance for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners interested in voluntary participation in private carbon credit markets. With a growing number of ecosystem service providers, producers seek a trusted source for reliable information. The act creates a certification program at U.S. Department of Agriculture to help solve technical entry barriers. Landowner participation and the adoption of practices have been slowed by a lack of access to reliable information about private carbon markets and too few qualified assistance producers and protocol verifiers.

The American Soybean Association, notes the bill also allocates funding for the next four years.

“Soy growers are dedicated to finding ways to improve our natural resources and protect our climate,” said Kevin Scott, American Soybean Association president and a soybean farmer from Valley Springs, South Dakota. “Many have expressed interest in participating in voluntary environmental credit markets but the market landscape is evolving quickly and lacks uniform standards.”

The Senate’s action is a positive step forward to establishing markets, transparent and accessible for growers, he said.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-KS, said the bill establishes a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Provider Certification Program that is voluntary and the USDA will be able to provide transparency, legitimacy and informal endorsement of third-party verifiers and technical service providers that help private landowners generate carbon credits through a variety of agriculture and forestry related practices. The USDA certification program will put guardrails on carbon credit markets and will ensure that assistance providers have agricultural and forestry expertise, which is lacking in the current marketplace. The USDA will administer a new website as a one-stop shop of information and resources.

The House is also looking at carbon solutions although one of the key lawmakers expressed reservations to the Senate plan.

The Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-PA, called the bill a big-government solution in search of a problem. He notes that proposes a certification program the USDA to mitigate technical entry barriers to farmers and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets.

“The consequences of government intrusion into voluntary carbon markets have not been adequately explored and Congress should could continue educating itself and vetting these issues before legislating,” Thompson said, adding any legislation should empower farmers and ranchers and allowing them to do their work as stewards of the land.

Legislation should reduce the carbon footprint and increase the productivity and economic competitiveness of farms and rural communities without adding more red tape, he said.

Still, Duvall said he hopes the House with follow the Senate’s lead and work in a bipartisan manner, “to create responsible policy that protects the environment and protects the farmers and ranchers who rely on clean air and water to feed the nation.”

Marshall, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the act breaks down barriers for farmers interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices.

“Everyone in the agriculture understands we have been and will continue to be the solution, not the problem, when it comes to ensuring a cleaner, safer and healthier environment,” Marshall said.

He sees the act as a big win for Kansas farmers and he also thanked Senate leaders for working though the bill and seeking ways to improve the legislation.

The Senate bill also received the endorsement of an executive with the National Audobon Society. Melinda Cep, vice president of natural solutions and working lands, said in a news release there is a critical tie in working lands that play in storing carbon and helping slow the effects of climate change.

“While agriculture and forestry represent only a portion of the much larger fight against climate change, landowners are an important part of the solution,” Cep said.

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The legislation seeds to address barriers to entry for landowners trying to access voluntary carbon markets and encourages practices guided by science while also refining protocols that account for additionality, permanence and potential leakage.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].