Senate Ag. Chairwoman, USDA Discuss Climate Change Mitigation Tactics and Funding

On Friday, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, made an opening statement at a Senate climate change hearing, according to a press release issued by the committee’s office. Stabenow’s remarks focused on the potential for the country’s forests to sequester carbon, thereby offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from ranching and farming operations.

The comments and hearing reflect possible movement toward President Biden’s goal for the domestic agricultural sector: be the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, Successful Farming’s Chuck Abbott wrote in an article published last Friday. The goal is part of the administration’s larger plans to stem the tide of climate change, as discussed in the president’s Jan. 27 executive order Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

According to Successful Farming, Sen. Stabenow seeks a $50 billion funding increase for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) stewardship programs which combat emissions from farms and ranches. In an online press conference, the senator commented that she is pushing for the increase because “the White House’s proposal isn’t anywhere near enough. We have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to expand these programs and build farm bill baseline at the same time.” However, “key” Republican politicians argue that the USDA lacks the authority to access a $30 billion account to pay for climate mitigation projects, the news outlet reported.

Successful Farming also discussed of a USDA 90-day progress report entitled “Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy” (CSAF) explaining that forests could absorb an additional 20% more than the 14% of the nationwide carbon emissions they currently sequester through strategic tree planting and management practices. Forests are an area of focus because they cover one-third of the country’s surface area between urban, private, and public lands, the report said.

Though the USDA publication did not mention a “carbon bank” to aid emitters offset their carbon contributions, the agency acknowledged that “private-sector demand for carbon credits and commodities … could be an important lever for incentivizing CSAF practice adoption across the landscape.” However, the report recognized that obstacles such as high transaction and implementation costs and difficulty estimating greenhouse gas benefits pose challenges to creating a carbon credit system.

The idea of a carbon bank had reportedly been gaining traction in agricultural policy circles, but lost steam in past weeks, Successful Farming reported. A coalition of stakeholders including farm, forestry, and food industry players have called on the USDA to initiate pilot projects before launching a full-scale carbon bank, the article explained.