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Pollution Credits Are Hot Issue in Climate Bill

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Des Moines Register, Phil Brasher

Excerpt:

A bill passed by the House last month would set caps on greenhouse gases and require polluters to have permits for their emissions.

Some of the permits will be given away to soften the effect on the economy. However, polluters will also find other ways to reduce or compensate for emissions for which they don't have permits. That could mean cutting their energy use, switching from using a carbon-rich source such as coal - or buying credits.

At the insistence of farm-state lawmakers, the House bill was changed to put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of the credit program, rather than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Another provision added at the last minute would allow growers to earn credits for no-till farming even if they, like Gronau, have already been doing that.

Critics say awarding credits to farmers for practices they are already doing does nothing to reduce greenhouse emissions, the goal of the legislation.

There's also no guarantee that the carbon being stored in the soil, through no-till farming, planting cover crops or other measures, will not be released in the future.

Farmers would earn payments through contracts that would expire in as few as five years. After that, the soil could be cultivated again, releasing the carbon into the air.

Environmental groups largely backed the House bill.

But the Environmental Working Group has issued a critique of the bill, arguing that the offset provisions were so lax they would effectively allow as many as 67 coal-fired power plants to avoid reducing their emissions.

"We think that somebody has to continue to speak out, at least to try to get some people to think about what kind of damage we're doing to this climate-change legislation in the process of trying to accommodate the agricultural community," said Craig Cox, the group's Midwest vice president.

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