ÔÇťAgriculture has a vested interest in participating in cap & trade and climate change legislation," says Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust. "There are many stewardship and economic opportunities for producers to capture under a cap& trade system, and in climate change legislation in general, but we must include agriculture or we'll face potentially onerous regulations that were not designed to address the agriculture sector well."

Scholl also spoke to agricultural leaders and the press today as part of the Farm Foundation's Forum on "Carbon Policy Options and Implications for Agriculture" in Washington, D.C., where he outlined why he's "optimistic" on the opportunities for agriculture and refuted the idea that cap & trade legislation will only result in increased costs to agricultural producers.

American Farmland Trust and other key agricultural organizations also presented their priorities and concerns about the "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009" relative to the cap & trade section of the legislation to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other leaders.

"Your leadership is needed to ensure the final legislation is crafted in a way that maximizes the participation of farmers and ranchers while minimizing the economic burden in the climate change equation," the group's letter says. "From an environmental perspective, maximizing agriculture's role results in significant carbon benefits to the country and provides a vital component to addressing global warming."

"The Energy and Commerce committee-passed bill takes a good first step in addressing the significant role that agriculture and forestry can play in combating global climate change, with the inclusion of 2 billion tons of allowable offsets. However, before the legislation advances to the floor of the U.S. House, additional improvements are necessary within the offset sections of the bill to ensure agriculture's participation." The group notes that the following priorities need to be addressed:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is granted control and administration of the agricultural and forestry offset program;
  • Early actors are fully recognized;
  • No artificial cap is placed on domestic offsets;
  • Offset credits for carbon sequestration rates are based upon science;
  • Producers are permitted to stack environmental benefit credits;
  • Establishment of a static baseline; and
  • Limiting leakage analysis to the confines of the United States.

"Congress is in a tough position," Scholl says. "They must balance environmental goals with the effects on consumers, agriculture and other sectors, and the economics of this legislation will be difficult. But we also know that given the recent EPA endangerment finding, and a 2007 Supreme Court decision, that either legislation is going to happen, or the EPA is required to act to regulate Green House Gasses (GHG's) under the Clean Air Act'.

"It's time for agriculture to get involved in this legislation so we can realize the carbon offset and other opportunities, and avoid the downsides of a purely regulatory approach. Regulation also comes at a cost to agriculture."

The full text of the group letter to the House leadership follows, and is posted at the American Farmland Trust website.