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July 2009, Volume 15, Number 3

Climate Change and Ag; AB 32

The House approved the 1,200-page American Clean Energy and Security Act by a 219-212 vote on June 26, 2009. The ACESA aims to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It caps emissions and allows polluters to trade carbon credits, regulates cleaner fuels, invests in clean energy development, and boosts energy efficiency and renewable power. By 2020, the US is to obtain at least 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The heart of the bill is a cap and trade system that would require polluters such as factories and power plants to obtain permits for their greenhouse gas emissions or buy "offsets" to cover them. Initially, three-fourths of the permits would be given at no charge to coal-burning utilities and manufacturers. The number of permits is set to fall every year, which should push up their price and encourage cleaner energy production. By 2013, a permit to emit a ton of carbon dioxide is expected to cost $13.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the ACESA would increase costs for the average household by $175 a year in 2020.

In a bid to reduce opposition from farmers, the ACESA allows polluters to buy "offsets" from farmers if they invest in carbon-reduction programs on farms or forests rather than cutting their own emissions. USDA rather than the Environmental Protection Agency will have the primary responsibility to regulate the agricultural offset program, which can generate revenue for farmers whose crops soak up carbon dioxide or reimburse them for reducing greenhouse gases from animal waste. EPA will not consider the indirect climate impacts of biofuels, which could have resulted in a shift from subsidies to taxes on ethanol produced from corn.

The Senate's version of legislation to slow global warming is likely to grapple with several controversial issues not dealt with in the House, including giving the federal government power to approve new transmission lines to carry electric power to coastal cities from wind turbines in the upper Midwest and solar power generators in the Southwest. Bills that give incentives to develop wind and solar power will more quickly move the US away from dependence on fossil fuel if there is a way to transmit the energy produced to consumers.

AB 32. California's AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 with direct regulations, alternative compliance mechanisms, monetary and non-monetary incentives, voluntary actions, and market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade system. The Scoping Plan to implement AB 32 is at:

Agriculture, which contributes about six percent to California's greenhouse gas emissions, is exempt from AB 32 and the ACESA. Half of the state’s emissions are from livestock; the first effort to reduce agricultural emissions is encouraging manure digesters.

It is not clear how California agriculture will be affected by a warmer climate. The major fear is that there may be less rainfall, especially during the winter months when snow accumulates in the mountains and fills dams as it melts in spring. There may be more pests in a warmer climate, livestock may not fare as well in heat, and more extreme weather events that destroy crops or affect yields and quality.

Farmers are likely to adapt to less water and a warmer climate. For example, farmers who now flood fields to grow rice or pasture are likely to reduce plantings, and the acreage of field crops such as cotton and wheat are likely to fall. More expensive water is likely to be shifted to more valuable crops, especially perennial fruits, nuts and vineyards.

Farm employment over the next decade is more affected by consumption and trade patterns than global warming. For example, increased consumption of fresh strawberries has increased farm employment. Warming may raise the risk of heat stress to farm workers, especially because many are newcomers to the state harvesting crops not grown in their countries of origin and at a much faster pace than work is normally performed in Mexico and other countries.

The US Global Change Research Program released a report in June 2009 that concluded average temperatures in the US could rise by seven to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 if action were not taken to slow global warming. The projected results include large-scale flooding and destruction along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, ruined crops in the Midwest, rampant fires in California, worsening incidence of insect-borne and plant diseases, skyrocketing heat deaths and a host of other woes.

Global. Negotiations ahead of the G-8 summit in Italy in July 2009 failed to reach agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Under the plan, industrial countries were to reduce their emissions by 80 percent by 2050. At a previous G-8 meeting, President Bush agreed to a 50-percent cut in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but not to an 80 percent reduction in industrial countries.

Developing nations including China and India wanted midterm goals in 2020 and financial and technological help from industrial countries to achieve them, while industrial countries preferred to keep the focus on 2050. G-8 leaders hope to agree to prevent world temperatures from rising from preindustrial levels by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2020. Since temperatures have already risen by 0.8 degrees and will likely rise by another 0.6 degrees based on pollution already in the air, major steps would have to be taken over the next 11 years to meet the goal.

Peter Baker, " G-8 Nations Fail to Agree on Climate Change Plan," New York Times, July 9, 2009. John M. Broder, "House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change," New York Times, June 27, 2009.

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