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Culpeper Star-Exponent: Climate bill sails through U.S. Senate; House bill's prospects look promising

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

Prospects for curbing climate change gained traction Thursday with a big U.S. Senate vote for a farm bill and word that a House panel should act soon on a companion measure in that chamber.

Senators voted 92 to 8 to pass the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would make carbon credits more accessible to farmers and agricultural producers.

The legislation would create a U.S. Department of Agriculture certification program to surmount technical barriers that prevent farmland and forest owners from participating in carbon-credit markets. The USDA would link landowners to private sector actors who can assist the landowners in implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices.

The bill’s bipartisan leadership included Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for joining Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mike Braun (R-IN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-RI), and 47 cosponsors.

In the House, Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Don Bacon (R-NE) introduced a similar measure in April. Spanberger chairs the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee.

“This bill is a terrific example of how members on both sides of the aisle can find common ground on addressing the major climate challenges we face,” Spanberger said in a statement. “Our bill would break down longstanding barriers for farmers, ranchers and foresters—and it would reward them for embracing smart practices that are good for the land and good for their bottom lines.”

The Growing Climate Solutions Act is supported by many U.S. farming, industry and environmental groups. In Virginia, they include the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

The bill’s prospects in the House Agriculture Committee look promising, a Democratic aide with close knowledge of the panel said Thursday afternoon.

“We expect that the Growing Climate Solutions Act is likely to be marked up in July,” the aide said. “We are optimistic that it will move through committee next month.

“It’s a bipartisan bill,” the aide said. “... It passed 92 to 8 in the full Senate today. That shows you how popular this idea is, and how much momentum it has.”

Also Thursday, National Farmers Union President Rob Larew praised the Senate’s action and urged the House to take up the bill.

“The urgent threat of climate change – and the need for immediate action to mitigate and adapt—is irrefutable,” Larew said. “Last year, our country saw both its most active hurricane season and its most active wildfire season, and the years ahead are expected to be even more catastrophic. It will be no small task to curtail this existential threat—but by leveraging the full potential of every sector, including agriculture, we have the ability to protect our planet.”

On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Spanberger in Amelia County for a conversation with Central Virginia farmers, producers and agribusinesses. They heard from farmers about issues facing their industry as it rebuilds from the COVID-19 crisis. Ag people’s concerns included trade, export opportunities, conservation efforts, consolidation in the ag industry, and the lack of rural broadband internet.

Speaking later to reporters, the Cabinet secretary mentioned the Growing Climate Solutions Act and said he was looking forward to working on climate and conservation issues with the 7th District congresswoman.

After their roundtable discussion with Central Virginia farmers, Vilsack and Spanberger toured Featherstone Farm. The farm’s operators told them how they’ve been able to use newly available broadband to deploy “precision agriculture” technology.

This spring, when Bacon and Spanberger introduced their House bill, McDonald’s lauded their leadership and that of key senators.

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act takes important steps toward supporting voluntary carbon credit markets that enhance assistance for farmers and ranchers that use climate smart agricultural practices,” Marion Gross, McDonald’s chief supply chain officer for North America, said then. “We advocate for incentives, recognition and rewards for agriculture operations that quantifiably deliver positive environmental impacts and foster agriculture’s unique ability to act as a climate solution.”