New Dynamic in D.C., Statehouses Can Reinforce Solutions from the Land

November 8, 2018

Reaction among those advocating policies that promote land-based solutions in dealing with a changing climate are seeing Tuesday’s election results as beneficial to the cause. A shift in the balance of power in the House of Representatives and the election of a number of new governors who have made clean energy and climate mitigation issues in their campaign would indicate favorable political support for the kinds of policies advocated by Solutions from the Land (SfL).

Tuesday’s outcome can be an opportunity for all policy makers, including those in Congress, in the Trump administration and in statehouses across the country – regardless of political affiliation – to make an earnest commitment to provide U.S. farmers, ranchers and forestland owners with the tools – programs, funding mechanisms, incentives, tax breaks and research, among others – that are needed to meet multiple challenges, including those induced by a changing climate.

These steps need to be taken to counter the increasing impact that volatile weather patterns are having on the ability of our ag and forestry sectors to produce food, feed, fiber and energy. Widespread wildfires this year have taken huge tolls in California, Idaho, Oregon and other western states, while unprecedented levels of rain, flooding and hurricane-related damages have carved a huge swath through the south. Hurricane Michael alone left a trail of at least $7.5 billion in agricultural damages (the tally is growing) in the Southeast last month, taking out large portions of cotton, peanuts, pecans, tobacco, poultry production and timber in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

The natural disasters come on top of a rural America that has been economically battered over the past four years by uncertain market forces that have played havoc with commodity supply and demand, undercutting net farm income and investments in natural resource conservation measures.

Significant policy pathways for helping farm and forestry stakeholders lie in the biofuels field, particularly in the administration’s ongoing development of plans to revisit fuel efficiency standards for the nation’s fleet of automobiles and light trucks. The opportunity is there for EPA to promote high-octane, low-carbon, lower-cost transportation fuels that enable the use of more efficient, lower polluting engines. And that higher octane can be supplied by U.S. ag producers right now through the increased use of readily available, low-cost ethanol, which, in turn, offers significant environmental and economic benefits.

Another policy initiative that needs immediate action to benefit ag producers is the administration’s lifting of a ban on the summertime sale of E15 in most of the country. The White House says the proposed rule will be formally issued in February. While EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler says the rule will be adopted in plenty of time to begin E15 summer sales next year, ethanol groups are urging the administration to begin the process sooner, given the litigation that is expected from the oil industry once the rule lifting the ban is proposed.

A related issue is the need to implement the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as intended by Congress. The administration’s biofuel blending targets proposed in June and scheduled for final adoption by the end of this month were deemed by most in the sector to be adequate. But the disclosure of the rampant giveaway of waivers under the RFS to “small” refiners by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt showed a clear disregard for the impacts the standard has on agriculture’s bottom line. This questionable window of largess available to the oil industry must be shuttered and certainty returned to this critical biofuel policy tool, which has long served as a strong driver for the rural economy, creating new markets for farmers, generating new jobs in rural America, giving consumers more fuel choices, and improving both national security and our nation’s air quality.

With the election results mostly in, there is now impetus among farm-state lawmakers to hammer out a final version of the five-year Farm Bill by the end of this Congress in December. Lawmakers can incorporate provisions that promote adaptive land management tools and practices that give farmers the ability to intensify production to meet the needs of a global population expected to climb more than 30 percent over the next three decades. Agriculture committee members from both houses of Congress charged with hammering out a final bill can now focus on approving and funding policies and programs to help make agricultural operations more resilient to the consequences of a changing climate, including extreme drought (and the wildfires that result), harsh flooding and other violent weather extremes.

The new farm bill should give producers the ability to develop and implement management practices that increase soil health and encourage the wider implementation of crop and livestock grazing rotation, no-till farming and cover crops, all aimed at boosting productivity and resilience, and enhancing carbon sequestration.

SfL urges stakeholders to reach out to lawmakers and administration officials in Washington, and to policy makers in their own states during this time of transition. Tell them they must make a policy commitment to land management practices, biofuel production and other tools that have been proven to make farming operations more productive, more resilient and more capable of offering healthier soil, cleaner water, greater wildlife habitat and a wide range of other ecosystem services.

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