The American Farm Bureau Federation, not content with the major concessions for agriculture that its congressional allies secured during the House climate debate, is now lobbying the Senate for a better deal.

Appearing at a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman not only pushed for provisions that environmentalists believe would limit the efficacy of a climate bill, he also repeated climate skeptic talking points, questioning whether climate change is even happening, according to written testimony submitted to the committee:

What do the facts and the science tell us about climate change? Number one, data seems clearly to indicate an identifiable warming trend. The data also shows that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing and that man-made emissions have increased for a number of decades.

But those aren’t the only facts, and they don’t tell the whole story. We also know, for instance, that the climate models that have gotten so much attention did not predict the cooling that has occurred over the last decade. We know that there have been times in the earth’s history when carbon concentrations in the atmosphere were greater, when temperatures have been cooler or warmer – in short, there are any number of variables that probably affect the earth’s climate in ways that we simply don’t know. We know that reputable scientists have raised questions about the computer models that are being used.

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As the House drafted a climate bill last month, the Farm Bureau worked hard to win a number of ag-specific changes, but then went on to oppose the bill overall. On Tuesday, Stallman said the Farm Bureau wants the Senate bill to place a higher priority on domestic carbon offsets. The House bill would allow for half of the 2 billion tons of offsets to come from other countries. This is seen both as a way to allow U.S. companies to buy offsets at a lower price, and as a way to avoid deforestation in other countries – specifically, developing countries that need encouragement to participate in a global climate deal. But Stallman wants the Senate to increase the share for domestic providers.

“Every offset that is international is a transfer of wealth out of this country to some other country, out of the pockets of consumers in this country,” said Stallman after the hearing.

“Even the first year that the international offset program goes into place, according to EPA’s analysis, you’re going to send $20 billion to another country, overseas,” said Robert Young II, the Farm Bureau’s chief economist. “As I recall our total foreign aid at this point in time only runs about $30 billion. So to do that in one fell swoop in one year, and then we’re going to do that for forever. By the time you get out to 2050, you’re talking about $100 a ton for carbon, you’re literally sending $100 billion for carbon credits overseas. Just think about that.”

“That’s coming out of the pockets of citizens of this country,” echoed Stallman.

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Raising fears about money going overseas (i.e. to CHINA!) is one of the major lines of attack on the offsets provisions from opponents of the bill these days. But the Farm Bureau and others are also raising concerns that if forestry offsets are more valuable than agricultural offsets, farmers might convert cropland to forests.

“Farmers are smart people. They’re going to look at the net return for crop production and the net return for forest sequestration,” said Stallman.

Stallman also listed what the Bureau would like to see changed in the overall bill, beyond the ag provisions. Included in the request is an offramp for the bill, should the price of carbon get too high. Enviros aren’t very supportive so-called “safety valves” in a climate bill, noting that the point of an emission-credit system is to make it noticeably more expensive to pollute so industries will have incentive to reduce their emissions.

Stallman also said his group wants the bill to include provisions that would fast track construction of new nuclear plants or further support the development of carbon-capture-and-storage technology to “plug the energy hole” that could be created by moving away from carbon.

The Farm Bureau is planning to talk to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Agriculture Committee, about its requests. “We look forward to working with Sen. Harkin and his staff to come up with ways to improve [the bill],” Stallman said. “Ultimately whether we support a massive piece of legislation or not, depends on the board of directors’ determination after the bill is completed and we can do an analysis of the impacts. There are a lot of things we would need before we would even consider it.”

What they might get

Stallman will likely have a willing ear in Harkin, who has said he wants to ensure that the Senate bill contains all the goodies in the House package, and then some. The deal forged in the House, under pressure from Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), included giving the Department of Agriculture oversight over offsets rather than the EPA, delayed for five years the inclusion of indirect land use in accounting for the emissions of biofuels, and ensured that farmers already using conservation practices would be eligible for the incentive programs.

“If it’s like the House bill, I’ll be reasonably happy,” Harkin said recently. “We want no indirect land use, things like that in there — there is no scientific basis for that.”

Harkin said in a recent speech to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives that he will seek “more allocations and allowances” for agriculture in the Senate bill.

Both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Council of Farm Cooperatives were among the farm groups that did not support the House bill, as were the American Farmers and Ranchers, National Corn Growers Association, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, and the National Pork Producers Council.

Some farm groups have supported the House bill, however, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, the American Farmland Trust, and the National Farmers Union.

Tuesday’s EPW hearing was titled (not too subtly), “Economic Opportunities for Agriculture, Forestry Communities and Others in Reducing Global Warming Pollution.” It was a clear attempt on the part of committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to court ag interests as she attempts to craft the Senate’s version of a climate and energy bill. Boxer played up the benefits for ag in the House bill, which allows for a significant amount emissions reductions to come from domestic agricultural and forestry offsets. And she also played up the potential harms to agriculture if global warming continues unfettered.

“If we do nothing and argue over this to the point of stalling everything, the farmers in my state will be desperate, as they see more droughts and more warming,” said Boxer. “This is a rare time, we have the confluence of a recession that is deep and global and the issue of climate change — it creates an exceptional opportunity, if we can just get over our fear-mongering and get over the naysayers.”

Boxer was also sure to point out to her Midwestern, Republican colleagues at the hearing that she in fact represents the largest agriculture state in the country, a statement prompted by Kit Bond (R-Mo.) suggestion that coastal-state senators might not understand opposition to the climate bill emanating from the heartland. Boxer’s retort didn’t stop farm-state Republicans from presenting a solid block against the bill throughout the hearing. “This bill will cost Missouri farmers up to $30,000 a year,” claimed Bond.

“Wealth will be transferred away from the Midwest to the West Coast,” said John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

What farm-state Democrats will demand in the Senate version to secure their support remains to be seen. It’s not yet clear whether Harkin will try to get his priorities included in the EPW’s bill, or if he will have to introduce them in the form of an amendment when it eventually reaches the Senate floor. He says he would prefer to see his input incorporated early on. “I don’t want to offer an amendment,” he told National Journal.

He also indicated that he doesn’t think a climate bill will come to the floor until November or even December and could even “slip until next spring.”

Harkin’s committee will host a hearing on the role of agriculture and forestry in climate policy on July 22, stay tuned.

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