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Inside the Beltway: Changing the Climate Bill to Better Fit Agriculture
by Eric Washburn

Collin Peterson, the powerful chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, may hold the key to passing national climate change legislation. And he is using that power to cut a better deal for American Agriculture.

Since the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved its massive cap and trade legislation to control emissions of greenhouse gases in late May, House leadership has been working hard to come up with the 218 votes needed to pass this legislation through the full House. While no one yet knows where all the members stand on this bill, Chairman Peterson has indicated that he controls the votes of about 45 Democrats, potentially enough o prevent its passage. In return for his support, he wants key changes made to the bill.

Among those items at the top of his list are 1) giving USDA a much more central role in the development and implementation of a carbon credit program for farmers and ranchers, 2) providing clarity in the bill with respect to the types of agricultural projects (e.g. methane digesters, no-till practices) that will generate carbon offsets that can then be sold to industries to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, and 3) eliminating the consideration of so-called “indirect emissions,” particularly international land use changes, from the calculation of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

Environmental groups have dug in and are urging Waxman to resist Peterson’s efforts to ditch the calculation of indirect emissions in the RFS.

Peterson not only feels strongly about these issues, but also feels a great responsibility for the political well-being of members of his committee who are being asked by the Democratic House leadership to vote for the climate change bill. Many of these Congressmen come from relatively conservative districts where climate change legislation is not popular. For example, in early June, about ten agriculture organizations from North Dakota wrote a letter to their Congressional representatives urging them to oppose the Waxman climate change bill.

Thus far there have been a number of meetings between Agriculture Committee Chairman Peterson and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Waxman and their staffs. House Speaker Pelosi has indicated that she would like the entire House to vote on the legislation prior to the July 4 recess. She is unlikely to bring up with bill until she knows she has the votes. Chairman Peterson may hold the key to determining whether and when that occurs.

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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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