By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy includes initiatives promoting advanced biofuel, increasing the production of renewable energy and fuel and helping farmers better prepare for changing growing conditions.
His strategy, laid out during a June 25 speech at Georgetown University, also includes actions the administration could take to limit greenhouse emissions from new and existing carbon-producing power plants.
“We know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change. Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet,” Obama said.
“2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland ... Farmers see crops wilted one year, washed away the next and the higher food prices get passed on to you, the American consumer.”
He detailed several ways his administration would work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create awareness about global climate change in the agricultural community, including the creation of seven regional USDA “climate hubs” to provide information to farmers and ranchers.
The plan also calls for the USDA to work with communities in preparing for drought and wildfire, by launching a National Drought Resilience Partnership and prioritizing rangeland restoration efforts to make areas less prone to sweeping wildfires.
Obama also called for the USDA to work with the departments of Energy, Interior, Labor and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop technologies and best practices for controlling methane emissions originating from farms and ranches. Other greenhouse gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons, are also being targeted by Obama’s proposal.
Key aspects of the this proposal affecting all of agriculture include the issuance of up to $8 billion in already approved loan guarantees available for advanced fossil and energy efficiency projects, and the goal of doubling renewable energy generation by 2020. Obama reiterated his “all of the above” energy strategy during the speech, including using the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to reduce carbon emissions – earning the praise of many in the renewable fuels industry.
“The President is right to identify the (RFS) and existing federal regulations as critical to the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. Pound-for-pound, advanced ethanol is the most carbon-reductive alternative to gasoline in the world, and the RFS is driving the commercial deployment of our industry,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC).
“The advanced ethanol industry stands behind the Obama administration in their effort to address climate change.”
In the days before his speech, the administration began rolling out a number of measures intended to help address climate change both on the ground and in the air.
The EPA’s new, 938-page Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Proposed Rule will reduce pollutants from light-duty motor vehicles for years to come, according to proponents – including the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA).
The NCGA is also supportive of the EPA’s support for the RFS and the benefits of using ethanol in transportation fuel.
Other efforts by the administration to temper the effects of climate change in the ag sector include the development of the world’s largest soil carbon dataset to help farmers estimate the impacts of conservation practices on soil carbon levels.
According to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the department is committed to reducing ag’s carbon footprint.
“It is our obligation to equip landowners with the most up-to-date information and technical assistance, so we can mitigate the impacts of climate change and help secure sustainable food production systems for the American people,” Vilsack stated prior to Obama’s speech at Georgetown.
The speech came at a time when many Western farmers and ranchers were closely monitoring the control of wildfires – including the fatal Yammell Hill wildfire – as they snaked toward, and sometimes through, their homes and farming operations. A warming planet will only increase those producers’ exposure to wildfire, according to climate scientist Don Wuebbels of the University of Illinois at Urbana.
“(This) is not new to us,” said Wuebbels, one of the authors of a draft federal report released earlier this year on climate change. “We’ve been saying this for some time.”
Though he and other scientists have been cautioning the public about the advent of global warming for decades, real action, such as placing federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution power plants can pump into the air, has not found footing in Congress due in part to partisan politics.
“It hasn’t always been (that way),” Obama said during the speech. “It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans led the way on new and innovative policies to tackle these issues. Richard Nixon opened the EPA.
“George H.W. Bush declared – first U.S. president to declare – ‘human activities are changing the atmosphere in unexpected and unprecedented ways.’ Someone who never shies away from a challenge, John McCain, introduced a market-based cap-and-trade bill to slow carbon pollution.”
Coleman said it’s time for Congress to put partisan politics aside and work toward a common solution. “What we need at this point is for Congress to establish a path and stick to it,” she said.
“The ongoing politicization of this issue just means that clean energy industries are going to build their new facilities on Chinese or Brazilian soil instead of in the United States. That’s a bad outcome for both political parties.”