Farm and Forestry Offsets Key Question in Senate Debate
E and E News/Greenwire, Allison Winter
A new analysis from the Environmental Working Group estimates that the House bill could allow the equivalent of more than 67 large coal-fired power plants to avoid any new controls on greenhouse gas emissions without requiring landowners to create any new carbon sequestration projects. "The effect of allowing polluters to take credit for what farmers and ranchers are already doing could significantly impede our progress in slowing climate change," states the report.
The Conservation Technology Information Center estimates that conservation tillage practices were already in use on 174 million acres in 2007, the equivalent of between 87-148 million metric tons of offset credits. Farmers could also potentially gain credit for millions of acres enrolled in farm bill conservation programs.
Farm groups fought to include the provision for "early actors" in the climate bill. They want to make sure that conscientious landowners who started conservation projects early on -- some of whom are already participating in voluntary carbon markets -- can still participate in a new carbon market.
They also warn that a requirement for new participants could potentially create incentives for farmers to plow up conservation lands and then reinitiate the carbon sequestration process.
The Environmental Working Group recommends the Senate bill only allow producers already participating in voluntary markets to transition to the new program. Otherwise, the group says that only conservation projects put in place from 2009 onward should qualify.
Tony Kreindler of Environmental Defense, who had not seen the EWG report, said the timing of the offsets is also of some concern to his group. Testimony from Environmental Defense President Fred Krupp will likely address the issue and recommend a scientific advisory board to oversee the program.