Watch out, Kerry–Big Ag’s not done with your climate bill
With the support of three big oil companies in hand, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is now tailoring his climate bill to please the folks over at the Chamber of Commerce, Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard reports.
What about agribiz? The good senator seems intent on bringing that greenhouse-gas-spewing industry into the fold, too. “Agriculture would be entirely exempt from the cap on carbon emissions,” Sheppard reports.
But as we learned last summer in the fight over the House climate bill, just exempting ag from the carbon cap isn’t enough. As I put it then, Big Ag’s message can be boiled down to: “screw the cap — just give us the trade!!!” In other words, agribiz interests are demanding that a generous stream of carbon-offset cash flow into what they call “production” (and I call “industrial”) agriculture.
In short, they demand that farmers be rewarded richly for doing exactly what they’re already doing: spewing greenhouse gas while consuming plenty of agrichemicals.
We don’t know yet how the Kerry bill will treat the question of agricultural offsets. For hints as to how it will play out, we can look again at what happened to the House’s climate legislation, named for its sponsors, Reps. Waxman and Markey.
Like the original Mayor Daley running his Chicago “machine,” House Ag committee chair Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) wrangled and threatened and fulminated before turning Waxman-Markey into another potential cash cow for Big Ag.
Before the bill had even made it out of committee, agriculture — a massive emitter of greenhouse gases — had been exempted from any carbon cap. By the time Peterson got done with it, it was full of goodies for agribusiness. His biggest coup was probably engineering things such that the USDA, not the EPA, runs the ag-offsets program. The EPA’s role in life — true, often honored in the breach — is to protect the environment. The USDA’s is to promote U.S. agriculture — and most of U.S. agriculture is environmentally devastating.
And Waxman-Markey enshrined an expansive definition of offsets for agricultural practices. The practice of “chemical no-till” — essentially, replacing tillage with heavy applications of broad-spectrum herbicides and herbicide-tolerant GMO seeds — is already widely practiced in the Corn Belt, to the delight GMO seed/agrichemical giant Monsanto.
As I wrote last summer, there’s no evidence that chemical no-till increases soil carbon content — indeed, there’s evidence that it does the opposite. Yet under Waxman-Markey, farmers stand to reap extra rewards from this dubious practice — without having to change a thing about how they farm.
There’s no telling now whether the Kerry bill will play out in similar fashion. But with the sponsor in deal-making mode and the industrial-ag stalwart Blanche Lincoln in charge of the Senate ag committee, I fear that the Senate version will be at least as bad as the House version viz. agriculture — and possibly even worse.