WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — Chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee — and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Climate Stewardship Act, which would increase federal investment in voluntary farm and ranch conservation programs, as well as strengthen support for reforestation and wetlands restoration across the United States.
Much like the environmental and economic challenges facing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, the United States now faces the ongoing crises of an economy weakened by COVID-19 and the impact of climate change. The bicameral Climate Stewardship Act — inspired by measures implemented in FDR’s New Deal — can serve as a roadmap for investments in agriculture and nature-based climate solutions as Congress works to build out President Biden’s plan to create millions of jobs, rebuild America’s infrastructure, and mobilize the country to meet the challenge of the climate crisis.
Spanberger’s Climate Stewardship Act would provide tens of billions of dollars in investment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) working lands conservation programs, with new funding dedicated to stewardship practices such as rotational grazing, improved fertilizer efficiency, and planting tens of millions of new acres of cover crops. Additionally, it would enroll an extra 40 million acres of environmentally sensitive land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), triple USDA funding to provide farmers with expert technical assistance on climate stewardship practices, and more than double funding for agricultural research programs at USDA — including substantial funding for soil health demonstration trials. These investments would support voluntary practices on more than 100 million acres of U.S. farmland.
“American agriculture can — and must — be a part of the solution in addressing the threat of climate change. In Central Virginia and across the country, I’ve seen firsthand how American farmers and producers use proven, voluntary conservation practices to care for their land and optimize their output. As Chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, I’m committed to finding new ways to support these efforts that both protect the health of our soil and benefit farmers’ bottom lines,” said Spanberger. “I’m proud to introduce the Climate Stewardship Act alongside Senators Booker and Gillibrand — because the dual crises of COVID-19 and climate change require innovative solutions to the major, urgent challenges they present. This legislation builds on the tremendous work farmers are already doing to build a healthier climate — and it makes sure our rural businesses and communities are not left behind as we work together to strengthen our economy in the wake of this pandemic.”
“In FDR’s New Deal, the federal government planted billions of trees, provided conservation incentives to family farmers and ranchers, created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and electrified rural America. In order to address the urgent and existential threat posed by climate change, we must have funding for all of these programs included in comprehensive climate change legislation this year,” said Booker. “The Climate Stewardship Act is a critical investment to seriously engage farmers, ranchers and rural communities as part of the solution to climate change. This plan will create important new jobs, make farms more profitable and protect our ecosystem for years to come.”
“I’m already seeing the effects of climate change on my farm,” said John Boyd, a Virginia Farmer and President of the National Black Farmers Association. “Smaller farmers like me are racing to make sure our farms are prepared to withstand the extreme weather caused by climate change. Many of the practices that make our farm more resilient also help reduce emissions and store carbon in the ground. We didn’t create the climate crisis, but we can help avert it.”
“The Climate Stewardship Act wisely looks to those people with the greatest potential to take care of our soil, water and climate: farmers,” said Jennifer Fahy, Communications Director, Farm Aid. “Investing in conservation programs that farmers already use but which are chronically underfunded and oversubscribed is a win-win. And when more farmers are able to adopt sustainable practices, we reap the additional benefit of increasing the resilience of farms, safeguarding our climate and our food system.”
Echoing the spirit of the New Deal, the Climate Stewardship Act would turn environmental restoration into economic recovery, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across our cities and rural communities”, said Jad Daley, CEO & President, American Forests. “We especially appreciate that with 100 million trees to be planted in urban areas by 2030, this vital legislation delivers an unprecedented push on Tree Equity for the socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods that are systematically lacking in trees all across America. That is a life-or-death matter today, because climate change is dramatically increasing heat-related illness and loss of life in these communities.
“A farmer’s number one business partner is the weather,” said Wes Shoemyer, Family Farm Action Board Member and Missouri Farmer. “Farmers know the climate is changing, and as stewards of the land and producers of our food, they need strong support to maintain these vital resources. The Climate Stewardship Act will give farmers a fighting chance to make an honest living and support them as they continue to feed this country. Farmers don’t need never-ending bailouts, they need smart policies like this one that will help them adapt and grow to meet the new challenges climate change is sending their way.”
“Farmers are already reeling from the effects of climate change,” said Colin O’Neil, Legislative Director, Environmental Working Group. “The investments proposed in the Climate Stewardship Act will not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming but will also help farmers better withstand the impacts of severe weather. We applaud Sen. Booker and Rep. Spanberger for their leadership.”
The Climate Stewardship Act would also plant billions of trees to revive deforested landscapes, reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps — one of the New Deal’s most popular programs, restore over two million acres of coastal wetlands, and invest in renewable energy for farmers and rural small businesses in the spirit of the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Act, which provided low-cost loans to help bring electricity to rural America.
The bicameral legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
For more information on the Climate Stewardship Act, see the section-by-section here and the full text here. The endorsement list from the bill’s original introduction in 2019 can be found here.
The Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee is responsible for legislation related to soil conservation, resource management, forestry, and water quality. In her role as Chair, Spanberger is working to advance priorities on the Subcommittee that are important to Central Virginia’s crop and livestock producers, including issues related to improving soil health and water quality. As Chair of the Subcommittee, she is also focused on examining how farmers can balance conservation programs and climate-smart practices with the need to grow their businesses.
Last year, Spanberger introduced the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would break down barriers for farmers, ranchers, and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets and to reward them for embracing climate-smart practices.
And in February 2021, during the first House Agriculture Committee hearing of the new Congress, Spanberger called on lawmakers to recognize the valuable perspectives of farmers on conservation issues and bring them to the table in policy discussions related to the climate crisis. She also highlighted the demonstrated record of crop and livestock producers contributing to successful, voluntary conservation efforts — and she urged her colleagues to listen to their feedback when discussing steps to combat the threat of climate change.