Colorado farmers hear views on climate bill | TSLN.com

Colorado farmers hear views on climate bill

Chris Clayton

DTN photo by Chris ClaytonU.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, speaks to reporters Wednesday about his support for legislation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

FORT MORGAN, CO (DTN) – A Colorado senator told farmers Wednesday he sees opportunities in climate legislation, while the leader of the American Farmland Trust also cautioned producers against likely regulations if no legislation passes.

“I have said from the beginning I support a market-based approach to the climate, and cap-and-trade is a version of that, but I think the version of the House bill is far more complicated than what we ought to have,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, told farmers. “People need to know what the economics are here and what the consequences are of the decisions.”

While the National Farmers Union supports climate legislation, farmers and ranchers continued to express skepticism at the meeting Wednesday hosted by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the American Farmland Trust. More than 100 people attended the event.

Producers questioned the possible energy costs resulting from the legislation and how those will compare to potential gains from carbon offsets. Speakers pointed out that most analyses so far do not forecast major price increases for producers. Further, defeating legislation doesn’t necessarily mean nothing will happen.

“It’s not like it’s the climate-change bill or the status quo,” said Jon Scholl, president of the American Farmland Trust.

James Pritchett, an agricultural economist at Colorado State University, was asked point blank if he thought cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions would cause people to lose their farms.

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“Relative to the other things that drive people out of business, high energy prices, hail storms, droughts and other weather events, I don’t see this putting people out of business,” Pritchett said.

Bennet was appointed earlier this year to fill the Senate term for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet noted that Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA, “has been very clear he is not interested in supporting a bill that does not benefit our farmers and ranchers.”

The House bill, HR 2454, would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 and up to 83 percent by 2050 using a cap-and-trade program that would allow major emitters to trade emission allowances and carbon offsets. Farmers could benefit by being allowed to sell offsets from carbon-sequestration practices.

While stressing the need for legislation, Bennet said he thinks the Senate needs to pass a simpler bill than the one that passed the House. Bennet pointed out Colorado has a large reserve of natural gas, strong winds, sun and biofuels that could position the state to take advantage of climate legislation.

“The bill could be a huge job creator for our state, especially in the rural parts of Colorado, which is something that I think has not been focused on,” Bennet said.

There also is consensus among the Republican and the Democratic side on the Senate Agriculture Committee that regulation of farmers would be managed by USDA rather than the EPA, Bennet said.

“The current law is that the EPA would administer this, but I think USDA is really the right place to administer climate legislation for our farmers and ranchers,” Bennet said.

“I do think we ought to insist that USDA and EPA have a set of consistent regulations, because the last thing we want is to have left arm and the right arm not knowing what they are doing.”

Until last year, Scholl spent four years as an agricultural counselor to the EPA administrator in the Bush administration. Despite some beliefs among agricultural groups that the EPA would not come after agriculture, Scholl said the Clean Air Act will carry a big stick, especially given the EPA determination that greenhouse-gas emissions are a danger to human health.

“They have an obligation to regulate all greenhouse-gas emissions,” Scholl said. “I think we’re on thin ice if we think the endangerment finding is not going to apply to agricultural emissions.”

Scholl also sees opportunity for agriculture to benefit from climate legislation through offsets and renewable energy projects that will lead to more jobs in rural America for wind and biomass power.

“This is an opportunity for agriculture to take a progressive, positive approach to solve our energy problems,” he said.

As a corn and soybean farmer from Cooksville, IL, Scholl said he is sympathetic to the arguments that fertilizer and energy prices could increase because of climate legislation. But he also pointed out it was just last year that anhydrous ammonia was $1,100 a ton and diesel fuel hit $5 a gallon.

“I firmly believe we’re going to see that again someday,” Scholl said.