Congress Must Maintain Commitments Made to a Clean Energy Future

Testimony from Energy Secretary Rick Perry before a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday did little to ease concerns from clean energy advocates over a Trump administration budget proposal that wreaks havoc on his department’s research programs. Perry insisted that the cuts were in line with DOE policy that would now engage in only start-up research, while calling on the private sector to bring new technologies and advances to a commercial scale.

But clean energy supporters – and members of the congressional subcommittee – questioned if the spending levels for DOE research proposed by the White House are sufficient to fund even the most minimal development of energy sources.

Going all the way back to March when the administration first released its “skinny” budget proposal that called for massive cuts across the board – essentially to help pay for a similarly large boost in defense spending – lawmakers have been saying that they will be the ones to determine federal spending levels, not the White House, and they have virtually dismissed President Trump’s proposals as “dead on arrival.”

Still, the political climate under this administration is such that those who support even the most advantageous programs that generate considerable private investment at little cost to the taxpayer, fear for their future.

That’s why the nation’s major renewable energy trade groups wrote a letter to congressional leaders last week calling on lawmakers to fund programs that have helped “support job creation, economic growth and our country’s dominant technological position in electric power and renewable energy research and development.”

The trade groups and other clean energy champions specifically cite energy programs at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Advanced Research Programs Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).

Under the president’s proposed budget, EERE would see a 70-percent budget cut ($1.4 billion), including a 74-percent cut to its solar, wind, water and geothermal programs. NREL’s budget would sustain a 22-percent cut, the lab’s energy-storage research eliminated, and solar energy research would be cut by 22 percent.

ARPA-E, which nurtures innovative energy technologies aimed at boosting national security and addressing climate change, but which are too early in the development process to garner private-sector investment, would virtually be killed under the Trump proposal. Created during the President George W. Bush administration, ARPA-E would see its fiscal 2017 budget of $290 million slashed to a mere $20 million under the Trump spending plan, a 93-percent decrease. This is despite a recent assessment from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine that says ARPA-E is doing its job, and doing it well, through the generation of key studies, patents, projects and even three dozen new companies over the past six years.

The recurring message being sent by clean energy supporters is that Congress must reject the proposed cuts, which would jeopardize America’s position as a global leader in cutting-edge, clean energy technology research, and which would harm this nation’s competitiveness in a rapidly growing industry that presents a multi-trillion-dollar business opportunity.

Seven former EERE directors, who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, have said the damage would extend far beyond the clean energy arena. In a letter they sent to congressional leaders, the former DOE officials said the budget cuts would not only hurt the department’s standing as “the single largest funder of clean energy innovation in the United States.” The cuts would also hinder the U.S. position “in the global energy market,” leaving the nation “without a strategic and well-funded DOE research portfolio, including basic science, energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil energy and electricity reliability.”

Similar warnings were issued in a letter to lead congressional appropriators from former Republican officials, oil executives and business leaders, who argued that the proposed energy program cuts would have a shattering effect on national security and the economy. Joining in signing the letter were leaders from the fossil fuel, nuclear and low-carbon industries, including the chief executives at Southern Co., Exelon Corp., Shell Oil Co., PG&E, the American Gas Association and Clean Line Energy Partners, as well as the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

So, the consensus is clear: Stakeholders across the nation’s energy spectrum recognize attempts to slash DOE programs and initiatives that promote innovation will cede U.S. dominance in the global energy market to China, India, Japan, the EU and other nations that are currently on track to double their government research budgets. U.S. lawmakers must move beyond political and ideological motives, sustain research spending and meet the energy security and economic commitments incumbent upon a great nation.

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Initiative Readies Biofuels for Future High-Performance, Low-Carbon Engines

Research efforts to simultaneously transform both transportation fuels and vehicles to maximize performance and energy efficiency, while also minimizing environmental impact and accelerating widespread adoption of innovative combustion strategies, have reached a major milestone this month.

The Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) initiative is a research and development (R&D) collaboration between DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), its nine national laboratories and industry stakeholders – including national agriculture groups – is a first-of-its-kind effort to combine previously independent areas of biofuels and engine combustion study with the goal of designing new fuels and engines that are co-optimized – designed in tandem to both maximize vehicle performance and reduce environmental impacts.

The research builds on a large body of work that has already been done on various fuel additives, such as ethanol, which is an inherently high-octane fuel additive that contains many of the benefits researchers are looking for, including commercial and economic viability.

Last week, Co-Optima completed a year-long assessment of an initial 470 blendstock compounds, and announced eight blendstocks that researchers believe are representative of those with “optimal” fuel properties that can maximize engine performance.

The eight blendstocks that made their way through the intense research gauntlet are a mixture of dimethyl and methyl furan, n-propanol, iso-propanol, diisobutylene, isobutanol, cylopentanone, a high aromatic bioreformate and ethanol.

These candidates will now undergo continued research that will refine their property measurements, while researchers simultaneously develop improved models for blending with conventional hydrocarbon blendstocks. The initiative will produce and/or procure additional amounts of the candidate blendstocks sufficient for testing and to validate engine and fuel economy performance. Researchers will then be able to characterize and compare the blendstocks’ benefits and identify challenges to their commercial introduction. The list of representative candidates may evolve as additional data becomes available.

The Co-Optima initiative has taken a three-pronged, integrated approach to identifying and developing:

1. Engines designed to run more efficiently on affordable, scalable and sustainable fuels;

2. Fuels designed to work in high-efficiency, low-emissions engines; and,

3. Marketplace strategies that can shape the success of new fuels and vehicle technologies with industry and consumers.

Those approaches aim to meet the initiative’s stated goal, “Better fuels and better engines…sooner,” and to introduce improved technologies into the market place by 2025.

In addition to choosing their eight candidate blendstocks, based on fuel properties and maximized engine performance, researchers have also been looking at how engine parameters affect efficiency. They want to know what combinations of these fuels will work with modern and future engine designs in a sustainable, affordable and scalable way. Furthermore, they are looking for which of those combinations will produce the greatest reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG).

The final co-optimized fuel-engine systems will reduce petroleum consumption and GHG emissions from the transportation sector, while stimulating the economy – that means jobs – and promoting U.S. technology leadership.

The Co-Optima initiative is supported by a variety of industry stakeholders including automakers, biofuel feedstock and producer groups, agribusiness partners, infrastructure providers and technical experts. 25x’25 has been working with many of these stakeholders to develop strategies to accelerate the transition of transportation fuels to higher octane/lower carbon blends for use in the U.S. light duty vehicle fleet. Increasing the development and use of biofuels, including conventional feedstocks like corn and second-generation feedstocks such as corn stover, will encourage additional growth in the production of cleaner-burning cars and light trucks on U.S. roads and highways. Advancements in biofuel production have helped to establish ethanol, both conventional and advanced forms, as an increasingly cost-effective, commercially viable pathway for increasing the octane of liquid transportation fuels in the near future and by the year 2025.

The internal combustion engine will continue to play a key role in our transportation mix for decades to come. Therefore, despite fuel and engine advancements in recent years that have made vehicles cleaner and more fuel efficient, there is a continued need to improve vehicle efficiency and reduce the greenhouse gases they emit. The 25x’25 Alliance urges policy makers and industry partners to insure work like the Co-Optima research initiative continues. Additionally, regulators should take a closer look at the rapidly growing scientific evidence around the GHG emission-reduction benefits of biofuels, and acknowledge that they are a smart choice for meeting clean energy targets, while also supporting the U.S. economy.

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Lawmakers Should Push RVP Waiver Bill for E15 Immediately

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) will hold a hearing before his Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next week on a measure the ethanol industry says is long overdue. The sector views the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act (S.517) as critically important, as evidenced by a statement from one advocacy coalition who says the Senate “has a momentous opportunity to take the next leap forward in the evolution of clean energy.”

The bill, introduced in March by a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), would amend the Clean Air Act to address the limitations on Reid vapor pressure (RVP, a measure of gasoline’s volatility) that are placed by the EPA on gasoline during the summer ozone season. Essentially, the measure would apply the same RVP requirements and allowances that apply to gasoline blended with 10-percent ethanol (E10) to gasoline blended with more than 10-percent ethanol. That means the EPA waiver given to E10 gasoline, which allows an increase in the RVP volatility, would be extended to E15 and other midlevel blends. (A similar measure has been introduced in the House – H.R.1311.)

In 2011, EPA approved E15 for use in model year 2001 vehicles and newer – comprising more than 80 percent of the cars on the road today. Vehicle manufacturers have also certified the use of E15 in at least two-thirds of the U.S. market for the latest model year vehicles.

Yet, the ethanol industry has pleaded without success for years with EPA to change the summer RVP rules, despite an analysis done by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2012 that showed “the RVP impact of 15-percent ethanol is indistinguishable from that of 10-percent ethanol in gasoline for all volatility seasons and base hydrocarbon vapor pressures.”

The NREL analysis says there is no technical reason for regulating E15, or E20 for that matter, differently than E10, as their RVP ratings during summer months are similar. While E10 can be sold year-round, E15 is not permitted for use as a summer blend in most areas of the country as it does not currently have the EPA waiver.

Gas station owners want to sell E15 year-round, but can only freely sell E15 in much of the country from Sept. 15 to May 31. Come summer, they must label the fuels as available for Flex Fuel Vehicles only, due to EPA’s waiver applying only to blends with less than 10-percent ethanol. This requires changing signage and other administrative hurdles that are subsequently viewed by fuel retailers as costly impediments to selling E15.

How we got to this barrier goes back to the adoption of the Clean Air Act, which limits the evaporative haze that comes when drivers refuel in the summer and can cause smog. Because ethanol-blended fuels reduce carbon monoxide, tailpipe and particulate emissions, Congress granted 10 percent ethanol-blended fuel a regulatory allowance relative to RVP as a tradeoff for those improved emissions. That waiver was authorized in 1990, 21 years before E15 was even approved as a fuel. While Congress did not then envision a 15 percent ethanol fuel, lawmakers certainly did not intend for the RVP provision to limit the availability of ethanol-blended gasoline. In fact, the waiver provision was designed in part to encourage the use of ethanol in fuel.

The benefits of selling E15 year-round are evident:

· Fuel with higher blends of ethanol like E15 can cut carbon emissions by 43 percent compared to standard E10 gasoline, cleaning the air we breathe and lowering health risks associated with cancer and asthma.

· E15 saves drivers an average of 5 to 10 cents per gallon – savings that add up over the year.

· Without consumer access to E15, there’s little incentive to invest in research and development. Providing greater certainty in the fuel supply for higher blends of renewable fuel will generate additional innovations and investments in the next generation of advanced and cellulosic biofuels.

· Biofuels play a vital role in strengthening America’s energy and economic security. In 2016, biofuels containing ethanol displaced more than 500 million barrels of imported oil. Renewable fuels also give consumers the freedom to choose homegrown biofuels that reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, while helping grow jobs here in the United States.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he favors the change, but remains unsure if the agency has the statutory authority to approve the RVP waiver for E15 fuel. Therefore, Congress has a responsibility to help make cleaner burning biofuels more accessible to consumers and eliminate the unnecessary barrier facing E15 in markets across the country. The 25x’25 Alliance calls on stakeholders to reach out to lawmakers and urge them to amend as soon as possible an outdated rule that gets in the way of a cleaner and healthier environment. Updating the RVP waiver for E15 will keep America on the leading edge of clean energy technology, and will also greatly benefit consumers and our planet for many years to come.

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States, Cities, Businesses Will Fill Void Left by U.S. Abdication from Paris Pact

President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the global climate change agreement marks a disappointing abdication of this nation’s leadership role in meeting the challenges of the very real changing climatic conditions that pose undeniable threats to food production, water availability, coastal communities and government stability in many locations around the world.

His decision comes despite clear evidence that our climate is changing. One only has to look at the Midwestern United States, where farmers have faced fields inundated by heavy rains this spring that have stalled crop planting, which hints to a potential outcome projected by research that in the decades ahead, warmer and wetter springs will be followed by hot, drier summers.

Across the world, landscapes have been marked by climate change-induced volatility in weather patterns that are producing heavy rains, wind, flooding, wildfires and drought, among other calamities. Farmers are also struggling to keep up with increasingly unpredictable water supplies, and finding their lands more likely to face attacks from weeds, diseases and pests, which reduce their yields and global crop supplies.

Many analysts argue that the actual U.S. exit from the Paris agreement is little more than symbolic, contending that the Trump administration has already begun backing away from U.S. policies and programs aimed at addressing climate change, not the least of which being the Clean Power Plan. (The announcement begins a process that will not fully disengage the United States from the agreement until November 2020.)

Still, even in the absence of federal leadership, state, city and corporate actors have chosen to take on the threats posed by our changing climate and have begun implementing measures that can help close the deficit in emissions reductions that will be left by an oblivious administration.

Through Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), 29 states are boosting the amount of energy they expect their utilities to generate from renewable resources and/or save through energy efficiency efforts (another eight states have set renewable energy and energy efficiency goals), in turn generating significant reductions in GHG emissions. Many of those states are boosting their RPS requirements, including Nevada, where lawmakers voted to increase their mandate to 80 percent by 2040. In the near-term, an interim RPS of 50 percent would be set for 2030, which is a broad increase over the 25-percent mark that the state originally set for 2025.

Elsewhere, Hawaii decided last year to push its RPS to 100 percent by 2045; Vermont hiked its RPS to 75 percent by 2032; New York and California both now have RPS targets of 50 percent by 2030; and many others are set to achieve close to 25 percent by 2025. In the not so distant future, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its power from emission-free wind energy.

In recent years, cities have also taken a leadership position in addressing climate change through programs like the “Ready for 100” campaign, a grassroots effort with a 2018 goal of having commitments from 100 U.S. cities to move away from fossil fuels and pursue 100 percent clean energy by 2050. To date, 27 cities across the nation, including Miami, FL, San Diego, CA, Columbia, SC; and Salt Lake City, UT; have signed on to the campaign.

At the corporate level, a growing number of Fortune 500 companies are taking increasingly ambitious steps to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including procuring more renewable energy and reducing their energy usage through efficiency measures. A report recently issued by sustainability interests shows that 63 percent of Fortune 100 companies have set one or more clean energy targets. Furthermore, nearly half of Fortune 500 companies – 48 percent – have at least one climate or clean energy target, which is up five percent from a similar 2014 report. Accompanying the growth is rising ambition, with a significant number of companies setting 100 percent renewable energy goals and science-based GHG reduction targets.

It’s also important to take note of ground-level efforts to meet the challenges of a changing climate. Through initiatives like Solutions from the Land and the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, agricultural and forestry producers are developing landscape-wide measures that offer better crop and land management practices that will seek to reduce each sector’s emissions and build adaptive resilience to the changes that are coming.

Let’s be clear: The world is on the path to an inevitable low-carbon, 21st-century economy. The Trump administration’s choice to step away from this nation’s leadership role in pursuing that path and the clean energy investments that come with it necessitates a call to action for policy makers at the state and local levels, as well as decision makers in the corporate world, to assume a larger leadership role and implement the programs and practices that are needed to fill the void.

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Congress Must Reject White House Budget Plan, Support Rural America

The 25x’25 Alliance joined multiple other energy, farm and rural America advocacy groups Tuesday in expressing our extreme disappointment with President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018.

The spending plan proposed by the White House, however, does not come as a surprise, given that it adds details to the “skinny’ budget outline issued by the administration in March. The budget plan issued this week maintains the same draconian cuts hinted at in the earlier version, which would eliminate programs and services that benefit rural America. Among those programs facing severe cuts are those that promote the production of clean energy from our farms, ranches and forestlands.

USDA would see funding slashed by $38 billion over the next 10 years, cutting farm, crop insurance and conservation programs, as well as cut out funding for the most effective programs of the Farm Bill Energy Title. Additionally, for several of these programs, the budget would eliminate funding that had been carried forward from previous years, which means it would not only cut future annual funding, but also take away residual funds.

The centerpiece of the Energy Title is the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). Since its inception, REAP has supported more than 15,000 energy-saving and clean energy-producing projects in rural areas across the country. The 2014 Farm Bill provided mandatory funding of $50 million per year. The Trump budget would eliminate all of that funding, and also remove $8 million that is carried over from previous years, essentially killing REAP. Additionally, the Trump budget would claw back the $175 million in funding accumulated by the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. Furthermore, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) would get the same treatment as it has in previous years – capped at $3 million per year – well below the $25 million called for in the 2014 Farm Bill.

In addition to gutting USDA’s Energy Title programs, the president is also proposing major reductions and radical changes to USDA’s Rural Development mission area. That includes the Rural Utility Service, which supports 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives that provide service to 42 million people in 47 states. Collectively electric cooperatives provide services in 327 of the nation’s 353 “persistent poverty counties” (93 percent). Of the 42 million Americans served by cooperatives, an estimated 4 million live in persistent poverty counties. The cuts proposed by the president will harm the very people he pledged to help on the campaign trail.

The budget proposal says USDA conservation programs will be “streamlined.” These programs include those like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which offers opportunities to develop and grow bioenergy crops like switchgrass, as well as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps livestock producers build anaerobic digesters to dispose of waste and generate electricity. The “streamlining” would likely mean these programs will lose well more than $5.7 billion over the next decade.

USDA research, which includes the department’s work in developing agricultural solutions to changing climatic conditions and assessing means by which ag producers can adapt to volatile weather, would see a drop from $3.2 billion in 2016 to $2.5 billion in 2018. The White House plan would close down 17 of the agency’s 90 Agricultural Research Service facilities. Meanwhile, the proposal would cut discretionary funding for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service from more than $1 billion in 2016 to $766 million in 2018.

Elsewhere, DOE’s funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would be cut 69 percent under the White House budget plan for next year alone. The drop from $2 billion to $636 million is the largest of many cuts proposed, and is just one of a variety of energy program offices facing reductions. Research and development in bioenergy programs would be cut by $168 million, or more than 74 percent. In fact, DOE’s Office of Science would lose nearly a fifth of its $5 billion budget, putting the brakes on critical work and costing jobs at DOE’s 17 national laboratories. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which has had vast success in driving new energy technologies that would otherwise have been too risky for the private sector to undertake, would be eliminated by 2019, retaining only small residual budget in the interim.

Energy efficiency programs would be eliminated. Weatherization initiatives that provide insulation and storm windows to protects homes from precipitation and wind, resulting in considerable energy savings, would be gone. EPA’s Energy Star program, which certifies a wide variety of products – from appliances to buildings – as highly efficient, would be eradicated, despite administration costs of only about $50 million, yet producing more than $34 billion in energy savings costs for consumers each year.

It borders on the ironic that the Trump budget document says it aims to “increase development of America’s energy resources, strengthening our national security [and] lowering the price of electricity and transportation fuels,” when it virtually attempts to eliminate the promotion of clean, renewable energy development that helps create jobs and boosts local economies, all while enhancing our energy security.

However, it is important to remember that members of Congress have made very clear that the president’s proposal is just that – a suggested line of spending. 25x’25 calls on partners and renewable energy stakeholders to urge congressional budget writers to reject the Trump plan and develop a fiscal 2018 budget that supports efforts to shore up our small towns and farming communities, where the rural economy has fallen by half over the past four years. 25x’25 stands ready to work with lawmakers to develop a spending plan for the next fiscal year that provides solutions to the challenges facing America.

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USDA Re-Organization Must Align with 21st Century U.S. Agriculture

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s plan for reorganizing USDA, which is now subject to a public comment period that ends June 14, would create an under secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, realign department agencies under an under secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, and drop the under secretary position for Rural Development. (Under secretaries are second in the chain of command at USDA.)

While Perdue’s plans to “create a customer-focused culture of public service and improve the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of agencies that provide services to agricultural producers” is an admirable goal, it is critically important that the department’s structure and core functions are in alignment with 21st century agriculture, which consists of much more than just the production of commodities.

In the 21st century, farms, ranches and forests will be increasingly important platforms for producing not just food, feed and fiber, but also clean energy, clean water, wildlife habitat and other important ecosystem services. And all of this must be done while simultaneously adapting to changing climatic conditions.

Perdue’s plan to drop the under secretary position for Rural Development has drawn some of the loudest criticism from rural advocates, including the National Association of Counties and the National Farmers Union, who fear the lack of distinct leadership will diminish the department’s focus on small towns and agriculturally dominant counties.

Included within the auspices of Rural Development at USDA are the Rural Utilities Service, which administers programs that provide much-needed support for infrastructure and infrastructure improvements to rural communities. These include water and waste treatment, as well as electric power and telecommunications services, all of which play a critical role in helping to expand economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for rural residents.

In addition, USDA’s Rural Housing Service offers a variety of programs to build or improve housing and essential community facilities in rural areas. The agency offers loans, grants and loan guarantees for single- and multi-family housing, child care centers, fire and police stations, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, schools, first responder vehicles and equipment, housing for farm laborers and much more.

Also covered under the department’s Rural Development umbrella is the important Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which offers programs to support business development and job training opportunities for rural residents.

The department’s proposed realignment of conservation services is another move that should be reconsidered, given the impact it can have on USDA’s natural resources and environmental mission. Within this program, USDA ensures the health of the land through sustainable management. Its agencies work to prevent damage to natural resources and the environment, restore the resource base, and promote good land management. Furthermore, forests, farms and ranches are components of integrated landscapes, and as part of USDA’s evolution in the 21st century, the department should provide the resources and assistance for those lands to be managed as such.

And, of course, there are the critical farm energy programs, also a facet of the department’s Rural Development oversight. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides significant incentives for farmers, livestock producers and rural small businesses to make energy efficiency improvements, and to purchase or install renewable energy systems. The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program offers financial incentives for the development of commercial-scale advanced biorefineries and biobased manufacturing facilities. And the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) provides financial assistance to agricultural land and private forestland owners and operators who produce sustainable, non-food, biomass feedstocks for delivery to advanced biorefineries.

All of these programs and services offer major benefits to rural America by creating jobs and boosting local economies. And they contribute greatly to the 25x’25 vision that by 2025, at least 25 percent of U.S. energy needs will be met with renewable resources from farms, ranches and forestlands. Stakeholders are strongly urged to use the ongoing public comment period to remind the Agriculture Secretary of his commitment made this week to conservation and rural development, including the farm energy programs that ensure the contributions that agriculture and rural America make to our 21st century national energy strategy.

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Obama Remarks Short-Change Ag and Forestry Roles in Combating Climate Change

Recent comments on agriculture’s role in climate change made by former President Obama at a conference in Milan this week were, at best, disappointing.

At a “Seeds and Chips” conference, which gathers policy makers, investors and technology interests to discuss improving global food security, Obama cited agriculture as the second largest generator of greenhouse gases (GHG) that trigger climate change. He goes on to suggest those emissions are impacting food production, stating, “Our changing climate is already making it more difficult to produce food. We’ve already seen shrinking yields and rising food prices.”

Unfortunately, the former president’s remarks were overly broad, short-sighted and, in some cases, wrong.

What Obama fails to mention are the vast roles agriculture and forestry play in mitigating climate change – a surprising omission given his administration’s release last November of the Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization, which sets out a long-term vision for achieving emission reductions of 80 percent or more by 2050 while meeting growing demands on our energy system and our lands.

The strategy document makes clear that U.S. lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. In 2014, the U.S. land carbon sink sequestered a net 762 million metric tons of CO2, offsetting 11 percent of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy also recognizes the critical role to be played by bioenergy in meeting an expected growing energy demand in the decades to come. The sustainable management of our forests and other biomass resources can help supplement non-renewable fossil fuels in the transportation, building and industry sectors, while also supporting domestic industries and improving our national energy security.

While the former president’s remarks may be unfortunate, they underscore the need for agriculture and forestry to be at the table of all ongoing discussions about dealing with a changing climate. Policy makers around the world need to understand that important and substantial work has long been underway to address the challenge of agricultural productivity amidst a growing global population and changing climate.

Initiatives like the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), which was established in 2014 through Solutions from the Land, 25x’25’s parent organization, are not only addressing the need for farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to adapt to the extreme weather that comes with climate change, but they are also promoting the development of practices that mitigate its causes.

Taking a full, landscape approach, NACSAA is helping develop ways to sustainably increase agricultural productivity; enhance adaptive capacity and improve production resilience; and deliver ecosystem services, sequester carbon, and reduce and/or avoid GHG emissions.

Farmers around the world are finding ways to ensure that agriculture makes smarter use of less resources and provide more food with less carbon emissions, through activities like crop rotation, cover crops, using drought-resistant seeds, better input management, reduced water usage, and no- and low-till crop production, among others. Simultaneously, forest management is advancing to the point that global forestlands are becoming even greater carbon sinks.

We urge political leaders to embrace the efforts of those in agriculture and forestry who are producing clean energy and working to maximize the use of agricultural and forestry landscapes to sink carbon. Not only do these practices mitigate climate change, they improve soil health and, in turn, enhance productivity and profitability for farmers and forestland owners.

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Carbon Neutrality of Woody Biomass Set to Become Federal Law

The $1.1-trillion budget resolution headed toward passage by Congress this week contains a provision that has long been sought by many renewable energy advocates, including 25x’25 Alliance members, particularly those in the bioenergy sector. The language in the measure, which sets government spending for the remainder of this fiscal year and avoids a government shutdown, deems biomass “carbon neutral,” a definition that clarifies and gives direction to federal policy and multiple agencies.

The language would at long last recognize that sustainably produced and managed biomass can offer valuable clean energy contributions and important carbon sequestration services to mitigate climate change. Furthermore, the measure would finally bring harmony to what has been dysfunctional federal policy garbled by 13 different definitions of biomass in various laws and regulations.

The actual language from the provision sounds much like the arguments that have long been made to policy makers in support of biomass citing it as a viable, economically and environmentally beneficial source of power and transportation fuel.

Section 428 of the bill says that in order to “support the key role that forests in the United States can play in addressing the energy needs of the United States, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall, consistent with their missions, jointly ensure that federal policy relating to forest bioenergy is (both) consistent across all federal departments and agencies; and recognizes the full benefits of the use of forest biomass for energy, conservation, and responsible forest management.”

The measure also calls for the establishment of “clear and simple policies for the use of forest biomass as an energy solution, including policies that reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source, provided the use of forest biomass for energy production does not cause conversion of forests to non-forest use.”

The measure could encourage significant private investment throughout the forest biomass supply chain, including in working forests, harvesting operations, forest improvement operations, forest bioenergy production, and wood products and paper manufacturing.

One key aspect of the provision is the emphatic support of sustainable forest management to improve forest health, of which extracting woody biomass is a valuable tool. And the bill recognizes the initiative taken by some states to produce and use forest biomass sustainably.

The arguments for this legislation go back nearly a decade. In 2010, the 25×25 Alliance and the Federal Interagency Woody Biomass Working Group convened a Wood-to-Energy Workgroup, consisting of representatives from landowner groups, professional forestry organizations, environmental organizations, traditional forest industries, emerging renewable energy industries and academia. Through a series of forums, the work group explored wood demand and supply, sustainability of forest resources, carbon and climate change, and related policies. In June of 2011, the Alliance issued the National Wood-to-Energy Roadmap that summarized the key findings and recommendations from the forums – information that remains relevant today.

Succinctly put, the roadmap demonstrates that far from decreasing the extent of America’s 755 million acres of forestland, the focused use of wood to help meet America’s energy needs would not only increase the extent of the nation’s forest land base, but would also improve the environmental services that the land provides. It would enhance economic development in rural communities; lower the carbon footprint of America’s energy supply; restore the health, vitality and proper functioning of many of the nation’s public lands; ensure the future of America’s private timberlands by “keeping forests as forests”; and provide the raw materials needed by America’s forest products industry, all while supplying a growing bio-economy.

We await the successful approval of the federal budget with this key language, and then congratulations will be in order for the lawmakers and the wide range of stakeholders in the forest and bioenergy sectors that brought about this long-desired conclusion to a debate that has lasted far too long. The new statute will set the stage for what could be a welcome resurgence of an energy source that will no longer be entangled in a web of contradictory and self-defeating policies.

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White House Roundtable Offers Encouragement for Rural America

A roundtable discussion at the White House Tuesday involving President Trump, Vice President Pence, newly sworn-in Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and 14 farmer-leaders and farm advocates offered a genuine sense of encouragement that the administration will focus strongly on the challenges facing U.S. agriculture, those attending the session agreed.

The gravity of the event could best be demonstrated by the invitation list, which included Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, a fourth-generation farmer who grows corn and soybeans; Zippy Duval, president of American Farm Bureau Federation and a farmer from Greensboro, GA; Steve Troxler, North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture and a farmer; and A.G. Kawamura, a third-generation farmer from Orange County, CA, and former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Crop, livestock, forestry and rural interests were all represented at the table.

A.G. Kawasura (second on the right from the president) joins in White House roundtable on agriculture and rural affairs.

Trump used the occasion to issue an executive order establishing an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, to be headed by Perdue, that will work with other members of the cabinet to “identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes to promote agriculture and rural America’s economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security and quality of life.”

In signing the order, Trump said, “Our farmers deserve a government that serves their interest and empowers them to do the hard work that they love to do so much. And that’s what today’s executive order is all about.” He also said the executive action aims to promote ‘rural prosperity in America.”

Kawamura, who also co-chairs Solutions from the Land, 25x’25’s parent organization, was inspired by the gathering, noting that the president was actively engaged in the discussion, listening with empathy as he fielded questions and comments from the participants, as well as asking questions of his own.

Participants agreed that the wide-ranging discussion addressed a variety of issues – trade, immigration, renewable energy, the Endangered Species Act, forest management and taxes, among others. But Kawamura said none were given more importance than others, noting they all represent the “pillars” of U.S. agriculture that must be supported for agriculture to be successful.

Discussion of one issue, though brief, was greeted with enthusiasm by renewable energy advocates. The president restated his “strong” belief in national energy security, including support for ethanol and biofuels, noting the job creation and economic benefit role it plays in rural America. Trump declared he wants “to do everything we can to help” the sector.

The president’s attention to agricultural concerns expressed during Tuesday’s roundtable serves as a reminder of what most election observers agreed on last November – that Trump won the presidency by listening to voters and offering them a platform that heeds their needs. The president demonstrated during the roundtable an appreciation and understanding of the issues that have a bearing on agriculture and rural America.

Perdue said after the event that the timing of the roundtable – occurring on his first day in office – was fortuitous and that the session was significant in the message it sent to rural America.

“The people who are on the front lines of American agriculture don’t have the luxury of waiting to tend to their crops and livestock, so there was no better time to convene this meeting of the minds than on my first day,” he said. “President Trump has made it clear that addressing the needs of rural America will be a top priority, and the message that we want to send to the agriculture community is that we are here, we are working hard, and we are on their side.”

We urge the president to pursue the action needed to implement that message, including support of policies that promote the development of solutions from the land that can address environmental concerns and food and energy security issues. Those solutions contribute to the well-being of rural America and to the nation as a whole.

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U.S. Needs to Stay Engaged in Global Climate Agreement

Reports circulating around Washington indicate a decision is coming from the White House soon to determine whether President Trump will keep the United States engaged in the global climate agreement reached in Paris 16 months ago.

During his election campaign last year, Trump claimed the U.S. involvement in the international pact to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, driven by the Obama administration, promoted policies that hurt the domestic coal industry and hampered U.S. development of oil and gas. He vowed to take the United States out of the agreement.

However, the president has since said he has an “open mind” about the climate pact. While key presidential advisors are reportedly divided over the issue, a number of those in the White House inner circle are arguing that it’s better to stay involved in the climate agreement than to be on the outside looking in.

Even oil giants ExxonMobil, BP and Shell say the United States should remain engaged in the global effort to address climate change, arguing that the administration can leverage the country’s status as one of the world’s greatest energy producers in negotiations to come. Surprisingly enough, coal interests are also calling on the president to stay in the pact, believing it can ultimately spark federal incentives and funding for additional research on carbon capture and sequestration technology that may save the industry.

The 25x’25 Alliance also recommends to the president that the United States remain in the agreement that was reached in 2015 by nearly 200 nations around the world. The facts are that it makes good economic sense.

We cannot emphasize enough that dealing with climate change is a bottom-line business. Opportunities presented by the agreement, now and in the future, are being recognized by corporations like Ikea, Nike and Wal-Mart, who have joined universities, venture capital funds and other major investor groups in touting the agreement’s ability to set up financing mechanisms that can channel investments toward low- and no-carbon energy technologies.

Six of the world’s largest multilateral development banks are in the process of investing nearly $300 billion between now and 2020 in efforts to stem climate change, demonstrating a commitment by the finance industry to support and fund clean energy research and the big renewable energy initiatives that nations, states and cities are launching to address climate change.

The Paris agreement commits nations of the world to report progress on reducing GHG emissions to a level that will hold the ongoing increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and below the maximum 2 degrees C that virtually all of the world’s climate scientists say cannot be exceeded without irreversible environmental damages.

The agreement presents a tremendous opportunity for U.S. agriculture, which can offer major reductions in GHGs through the soil carbon sequestration that comes from conservation tillage and cover crops, improved grazing systems, the restoration of degraded agricultural soils and grasslands, and agroforestry. Recent lifecycle analyses also point out that the use of biofuels in our transportation system significantly reduces emissions when compared to the use of petroleum-based fuels. The capture and conversion of methane from livestock facilities to useful energy also helps to reduce emissions.

While the agreement reached in Paris is nonbinding, it’s important to point out that the nearly 200 countries – including nations with strong economies, those that have rapidly growing economies and those that are still developing – agreed that action on climate change is critically needed. And that gives the pact unprecedented breadth and significance.

The United States currently holds a position of leadership on the path to the inevitable low-carbon, 21st-century global economy. If the Trump administration chooses to abdicate from that leadership role, this country could find itself trailing other nations as they boost their economies and create the jobs that come with a clear vision of what the future holds – and needs. This country needs to stay on the path, and not be left behind.

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