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Farm-state Dems Revolt Over Climate Bill

Whatever happened to that big House climate bill? At the moment, it's being held up by Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson, who said yesterday that farm-state Dems are in a "big revolt" over the legislation, as most of them feel slighted on issues ranging from ethanol to offsets. Right now, Henry Waxman's trying to alleviate their concerns so that the bill can get to the House floor. But if a deal can't get hammered out, well, Peterson doesn't sound too concerned:

"We've just had the biggest floods and coldest winters we've ever had," he said. "They're saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it's going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that's a good thing since they'll be able to grow more corn."

Right, as long as a few farmers can grow more corn, all those adverse impacts on the rest of the country described in yesterday's NOAA report shouldn't be a problem. Except that Peterson's actually wrong on this point. The NOAA study found that rising temperatures are "are likely to increasingly challenge the United States capacity to efficiently produce food, feed, fuel, and livestock products," and noted that "[e]ven moderate increases in temperature will decrease yields of corn."

In any case, one of the big bones of contention is how agricultural offsets are treated in the climate bill. Under the version approved by the House energy committee, all carbon-offset projects first need to get approved by the EPA, to ensure that they actually make genuine reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Peterson reportedly wants to relax this EPA oversight and make it easier for farmers and ranchers to get paid for things like planting more trees or practicing no-till farming. Many farmers have, after all, long distrusted the EPA, and Peterson himself went livid over the agency's recent scrutiny of the climate effects of corn-based ethanol.

Trouble is, as a new ClimateWire dispatch by Christa Marshall points out, the effectiveness of many agriculture offsets is fuzzy and unclear, and close examination will be necessary to make sure that farmers aren't just, say, getting paid to install methane digesters that they wouldn't have installed anyway—or, worse, getting paid for offsets that don't make any difference at all (there's new concern, for instance, that no-till farming may not actually reduce greenhouse-gas emissions at all). So there's a real risk that the Ag crew could further weaken a bill that already may produce smaller-than-expected cuts due to its heavy reliance on carbon offsets

--Bradford Plumer