NACSAA Reaffirms Commitment to Enhance Adaptive Capacity of North American Agriculture

A gathering this week in Washington, DC, of leaders from more than 30 leading farm and sustainability organizations from across the continent has reaffirmed their commitment to enhance the adaptive capacity of North American agriculture. The meeting, held at the American Farm Bureau Federation headquarters, marked a revitalization of the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), which provides a platform for engagement, dialogue, knowledge sharing and application of climate science to the agriculture and forestry sectors.

NACSAA, an initiative of Solutions from the Land (the parent organization of 25x’25), has three complementing strategies: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods; 2) enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and 3) delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

Sponsored by the advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility, Tuesday’s session drew together agriculture and forestry leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico who share the mission of making our food, feed and fiber production systems resilient to changes in our climate while intensifying production levels in the face of a growing global population.

Equally important, these farm and forestry leaders also renewed their commitment to the role of agriculture and forestry in significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – which most scientists say is a major contributor to climate change – through methane capture, soil carbon sequestration and biofuels (including biofuels for transportation and woody biomass for power) that burn more cleanly than fossil fuels.

The people in Tuesday’s meeting have the first-hand knowledge and experience to address the challenges that science is telling us to expect.

As documented in the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report (Vol I), record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future; the incidence of large wildfires like those that gripped California in recent months has grown since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase; annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack that are already affecting water resources in the western United States are expected to continue; and extensive drought is likely to become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.

This week’s meeting was held in large part to reinforce the role of climate-smart agriculture and help ensure U.S. farm and forestry interests remain a strong player in shaping global plans to address climate-related challenges and deliver solutions to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In November, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change announced the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, a two-year initiative charged with exploring and recommending “bold actions” agriculture and forestry can undertake to meet climate, adaptation and food security challenges, and presenting those strategies at the next UN climate meeting in 2020.

In their efforts to secure a place at the negotiating table now and in 2020, NACSAA members can cite federal government data showing that U.S. working lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. There are numerous projects at work reinforcing how biofuels can reduce emissions, including a University of Florida initiative to identify and deploy regionally adapted carinata (an oilseed member of the mustard family) as the basis of a biobased jet fuel; and a Washington State University project that takes a holistic approach to building a supply chain within the Northwest U.S. based on using forest harvest residuals to make aviation biofuel.

NACSAA members will urge policy makers at all levels to support programs that not only prepare agriculture and forestry for climate change, but enhance the sector’s role in mitigating it. As other nation’s make dealing with climate change a priority, U.S. interests must overcome the policy constraints at the federal level, knowing full well that failing to do so endangers the U.S. position in foreign agriculture and forestry trade and commodity markets.

The impacts wrought by climate change that scientists predict will happen are already underway.  In 2017, natural disasters caused $306 billion in damage across the nation. The United States is the world’s biggest breadbasket, but it is not immune to the impacts of a changing climate. We urge all stakeholders – be they farmers, foresters or renewable energy developers – to follow NACSAA’s lead and help develop the enabling policies and initiatives that will ensure the resilience of our food, feed and fiber production, and innovate the land-based strategies that will nullify the effects of changing climatic conditions and extreme weather events.

 

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FERC Rejection of Perry ‘Resiliency’ Proposal Renews Focus on Value of Renewables

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reached the right conclusion this week in rejecting a DOE proposal to essentially subsidize money-losing coal-fueled and nuclear power plants. The five-member panel also rendered its decision forcefully, voting unanimously in finding existing market rules were not “unjust, unreasonable, unduly discriminatory or preferential” – all conditions that must be present under the law to adopt Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan.

Last August, Perry called on FERC to issue new rules to ensure that power generating facilities with a 90-day fuel supply – nuclear and coal – be compensated for the reliability they add to the grid, in addition to the power they supply.

Some saw the DOE proposal as a ploy to boost the financial fortunes of certain base load energy interests. At the very least, it was a misguided effort to skew the energy market, even if its intentions were to ensure U.S. energy security.

A grid reliability study ordered by Perry and delivered to him last August clearly showed that the ongoing decline in the so-called “base load” energy sources – increasing coal and nuclear plant closures – was attributable primarily to less expensive natural gas, flatlining energy demand and significant increases in net generation capacity since 2002.

And it found that the dramatic drop in the price of installing renewables like wind and solar has led to wider implementation of wind turbines and solar panels across the country.

FERC’s ruling came just after Winter Storm Grayson, charged by an Arctic air blast, brought frigid temperatures, heavy snow, punishing winds and even coastal flooding from the Northeast United States down the Eastern seaboard. Conditions last week were similar to those experienced during the 2014 Polar Vortex – an event that pushed grid operators to their limits and did cause some disruptions of service. The conditions experienced last week could not have presented a better scenario to reinforce the need cited by Perry for his resiliency price proposal hiking the rates consumers pay for nuclear and coal power.

But the grid, in fact, suffered little disruption, and operators, who learned some lessons from the 2014 storms, attributed their success to a diversity of power sources, including natural gas and renewables like wind and solar, in addition to nuclear and coal. Operators made clear they had no issues with on-site fuel supplies.

FERC did give regional grid owners and operators 60 days to offer their own positions on grid resilience, including how they define and assess it within their service areas, and whether there is any action the commission can take to help them.

It’s a smart move. It will give FERC commissioners a chance to take a truthful, holistic look at the energy market. And it will give power system operators a window for input wider than that offered during the hurried rush the DOE forced on the commission to consider its proposal. Operators now have the opportunity to fully show policy makers that they have included deeper renewable energy penetration in their grids in addressing resiliency and reliability in recent years.

It should not be lost on the Trump administration, which came to Washington touting a free-market philosophy, that much of the overwhelming opposition to the DOE proposal was based on its effort to tip the market scales in favor of coal and nuclear power. It is hoped the White House recognizes that we are at a time when homeowners and businesses are increasingly looking to purchase power from renewable sources because they are increasingly cost-competitive and part of a reliable grid. And dozens of states and hundreds of cities are pursuing renewable energy development to lower power costs and assure reliability through diversity.

FERC will learn over the next 60 days that the U.S. energy market is best served by those policies that meet its demands for low costs, reliability, resilience, flexibility and security. Innovation will continue to be a driver of the development of renewable energy technologies that will increasingly meet those demands. Initiatives to modernize the grid don’t require much action from policy makers. Let competition and market-based solutions, including renewables, define the ideal energy mix of the future. Allow power providers to deliver the lowest-cost, most reliable energy solutions to customers across the United States.

 

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Congress Needs to Restore Tax Breaks for ‘Orphan’ Renewables

As Congress ratchets up its ongoing budget battles – the continuing resolution that is currently funding the government expires Jan. 19 – clean energy advocates of all stripes must hold lawmakers to their longstanding promises to renew tax credits for a long list of “orphaned” renewable energy technologies that were not included in major legislation adopted two years ago.

In December 2015, when Congress reauthorized and extended the Production Tax Credits (PTC) and Investment Tax Credits (ITC) for major wind and solar projects, lawmakers said tax credits for smaller renewable energy projects – geothermal facilities, for example – were inadvertently omitted, and they made promises to return to them the following year.

Two years have passed with no forward movement on those technologies.

But with a major tax reform measure passed and signed into law, a serious effort to renew and extend tax credits for those smaller renewable energy sources appears to be afoot. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced late last month the Tax Extenders Act of 2017 (S. 2256), a measure that would restore the tax credits intended to sustain the development of these lesser-known but vital clean energy technologies.

The legislation from Hatch indicates some real movement can be expected on tax credit extenders from the House and Senate tax writing committees.

Among the dozens of tax credits that congressional leaders said had been inadvertently omitted from the vast package of benefits passed in December 2015, and which ultimately died at the end of 2016, is a Biodiesel Blender Credit of $1 per gallon for biodiesel mixed with diesel fuel, and the Alternative Fuel Excise Tax Credit of 50 cents per gallon that can be taken against the taxpayer’s fuel tax liability.

The biodiesel credits are included in Hatch’s bill, as is a Small Agri-Biodiesel Producer Credit, which runs 10 cents per gallon for up to 15 million gallons when agro-biodiesel production capacity does not exceed 60 million gallons per year. Other provisions in S. 2256 are a Second-Generation Biofuel PTC of $1.01 per gallon for cellulosic biomass from agricultural residue, wood or waste; an Alternative Fuel Vehicle Property provision, a 30-percent credit for up to $30,000 for installing blender pumps that would sell fuels up to E85 and 20-percent biodiesel; and a 30-percent ITC for installing alternative vehicle refueling property.

While long-term extensions were granted in late 2015 only for big wind and solar projects, advocates are hopeful for provisions in the Hatch bill that will renew and extend a Distributed Wind ITC for installing electrical power generation, including distributed wind projects and community-owned wind farms that have local financial participation and control. The ITC currently stands at 24 percent for 2017, 18 percent for 2018 and 12 percent for 2019, before expiring in 2020.

Under the Hatch bill, the same phase-out rates would apply to a Small Wind ITC program that provides credits toward the installation cost of a system for small generators to produce power for individual homes, farms and small businesses.

Also included in the Hatch bill is a 2.3-cents-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) credit for electricity produced from closed-loop biomass, and a 1.2-cent-per-kWh credit for open-loop biomass. The credits are generally available for 10 years after a facility begins production.

Lawmakers are being urged by groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation, along with other rural and clean energy advocacy groups, to retroactively renew and extend the tax credits. In a letter to lawmakers, these proponents point out that the expired provisions impact sectors vital to the U.S. economy, and that the credits also support tens of thousands of jobs nationwide. Any failure to renew them, the advocates say, “creates confusion in the marketplace and effectively increases taxes on entities that create jobs and economic growth.”

It is critical for stakeholders and clean energy advocates to maintain the pressure on lawmakers to adopt these tax credits. Remind policy makers that it’s a matter of fairness, given that fossil fuels have garnered the benefit of tax breaks for a century. The production and investment tax credits represent a step forward in the effort required over the next several decades to sustain the renewable energy development that can boost this nation’s economy, ensure energy security and enhance the environment.

 

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Dropping Climate Threats from National Security Strategy Is Nonsensical

On Monday this week, the White House released a new National Security Strategy, a statutorily mandated document that outlines for the American public, U.S. allies and partners, as well as the federal agencies, what the nation’s major security concerns are, and how President Trump plans to deal with them.

Among the strategy’s targeted aspirations is to ensure the United States “will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while expanding our economy.”

That passage is the only place in the 60-page document that mentions greenhouse gases. Incredibly, this administration’s national security strategy is devoid of any mention of climate change, despite scientific-based evidence of the damage resulting today from rising global temperatures and ocean levels, as well as additional risks anticipated to result from climate change over the decades ahead.

Climate-related events affect national security by disrupting food production, spreading disease, interrupting commerce, forcing migration and sparking conflict.

There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that climate change is occurring now, and that it is a major threat multiplier to production agriculture across the globe. Toward that end, the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) is meeting Jan. 16 in Washington, DC, where farmer leaders and their value chain partners from the United States, Canada and Mexico will share adaptive management strategies, and discuss opportunities that now exist for the agriculture sector to deliver food, feed, fiber, clean energy, climate change solutions and other ecosystem services.

The nonsensical omission of climate change from the administration’s new security strategy also runs contrary to the Pentagon’s efforts over the past 10 years to reduce fossil fuel use – a leading source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change – and power military installations with renewables like wind, solar and biomass, as well as fuel planes, ships and vehicles with biofuels.

Earlier this year, Reuters news service published an extensive analysis offering in full detail the reasons why the Department of Defense continues to pursue clean energy alternatives. Senior military officials told the news service that the nation’s armed forces remain committed to an effort to transition high fuel-demand operations to renewable power, citing logistical reasons that have remained unchanged since the move to shift power sources began more than a decade ago.

The U.S. armed forces are the nation’s single largest consumer of energy. Twenty percent of the military’s energy consumption occurs at its installations, and the Defense Department pays around $4 billion annually to provide power to its 300,000-plus facilities in the United States and around the world. And while the military uses more oil than any other organization in the world, defense officials and military officers say there is no real control over this single source of energy. U.S. reliance on oil empowers countries and regimes that are hostile to the United States and continue to be identified as national security threats.

More recently, the Climate and Security Consensus Project, a nonpartisan, Washington-based think tank initiative involving foremost experts in the military and national security arenas issued a rather pointed statement that climate change poses a major security risk both in the United States and abroad, and that a wide-range of policy measures must be adopted to address the pending hazard.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, a former 25x’25 Steering Committee member and a member of the Center for Climate and Security advisory board, maintains the position that reducing the military’s use of oil is essential to national security and troop safety, while helping to eliminate susceptibility to fuel price spikes. The former assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment and a past commander of the Navy’s Third Fleet cites the economic benefits of the military’s pursuit of clean energy, pointing to data showing that the Defense Department’s investment in the military’s use of biofuels alone will generate at least $10 billion in economic activity and create more than 14,000 jobs by 2020.

Trump’s exclusion of climate change from the new security strategy runs contrary to not only military concerns, but also to a report issued in October by the General Accounting Office – an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. The so-called “congressional watchdog” charged with investigating how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, recommended the White House take action to address climate change. The agency reported that without implementing measures that mitigate the impacts of extreme climate events, which has resulted in the spending of billions of disaster assistance dollars, the federal government will only have to respond with even more spending in the future.

The 25x’25 Alliance calls on all stewards of the earth, be they agriculture producers, clean energy stakeholders, or even everyday citizens, to tell policy makers that the reality of climate change cannot be ignored. The president must be made to understand that addressing this issue directly and substantially is imperative for the United States to maintain its position of global leadership.

 

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U.S. Has Innovation, Determination to Return to Top of Global Clean Energy Market

Early on, the Trump administration announced with some fanfare its “America First” energy initiative, promising to take advantage of the nation’s untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands. The White House also expressed a very strong commitment to bolstering clean coal technology.

During those grand pronouncements this past spring, touting our nation’s energy prowess, little mention was made of clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, hydropower and others – despite the persistent growth in the sector over the past decade.

As a result, the reality is that the United States has ceded its position of global leadership in the clean energy sector; largely handing the mantel to China, which is working vigorously to move away from its dependency on coal.

China began its energy transition with several focused policies three years ago that aimed to move the country away from coal, which comprised 62 percent of the nation’s energy mix at the end of 2016, and towards renewable and clean sources of energy. Data analyzed by Greenpeace and other groups shows coal consumption has fallen the past three years in China.

Earlier this year, China’s National Energy Administration set a mandatory target to reduce coal energy consumption, while establishing a goal for clean energy to meet 20 percent of China’s energy needs by 2030. Most analysts contend that the latter target is quite modest, and will be met well before the next decade passes.

China’s surge in its standing as the lead nation in renewable energy development is not surprising, given its position as the largest energy consumer in the world. What makes its growth in the sector even more significant is the aggressiveness that the Asian giant has exhibited in pursuit of its clean energy goals.

While the Asian nation’s consumption of coal-fired power declined in recent years, clean energy consumption rose by some 25 percent in 2016 alone. In fact, power generation from hydro, wind and solar rose in China by 153 terawatt hours last year. That increase over one year approaches Germany’s entire renewable energy generation of 186 terawatt hours.

Beijing said earlier this year that it will spend more than $360 billion investing in renewable power generation from solar, wind and hydro through 2020. It’s an investment that is expected to create 10 million jobs in China, which currently boasts more than 3 million jobs in the sector – by far the most among all nations. On the other hand, the United States comes in third with a little more than 800,000 workers in the sector, falling second to the EU, which employs 1.2 million. China is also a major clean energy manufacturer, supplying more than two-thirds of the world’s solar panels, and almost half of its wind turbines.

China’s surge in the renewable energy sector over recent years, resembles the United States’ vigorous push towards a clean energy future earlier this decade. And while that ambitious approach to clean energy development has seemingly been abandoned at the federal level, the resources, innovation and determination among stakeholders is still strong, and we could easily reignite the intensity needed to meet our 21st-century energy demands.

Despite the Trump administration’s unfortunate bias towards fossil fuels (especially coal) and nuclear, this nation’s renewable energy sector continues to grow, driven by the state and local policies that encourage clean energy development, as well as through the push from successful businesses that recognize the contributions less expensive renewables make to their bottom lines, while also adopting aggressive sustainability goals.

In EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, DOE’s Energy Information Administration’s says that non-hydro renewable energy resources will gain about two percentage points, reaching 10 percent of the U.S. electricity generation market in 2018 (hydro will add another 6.5 percent). Leading the growth will be wind power, growing from 88 gigawatts (GW) this year to 96 GW (6.4 percent) in 2018.

Forward thinking policy makers at the state and local levels, as well as businesses and renewable energy advocates, are refusing to relinquish the clean energy role the United States has long played on the global stage. This country’s powers of innovation and pride are too great to settle for a “participation trophy” in the world’s clean energy market. Even with the policy indifference in Washington, the resources and determination to drive our renewable energy course abound and are ready to be put to use. China may hold the stage today, but the United States will find its way to the top again.

 

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Clean Energy Advocates: Tell Congress to Stop BEATing Up on Renewables

For all of the bipartisan goodwill that was on display at the end of 2015 when Congress reauthorized and extended multiple tax credits for renewable energy technologies, it is disappointing to now see so many lawmakers willing to renege on those agreements.

Despite the fact that the renewable energy sector agreed two years ago to a phase-out of those extended benefits, in exchange for market certainty, many in the House and Senate are now ready to impose new tax structures that will upend one of the nation’s fastest growing industries, and endanger billions of dollars of investment in projects that would diversify and strengthen our nation’s energy infrastructure and delivery.

First, the House, in an extremely narrow vote, last month approved, as part of a major tax reform bill, provisions that would shorten the terms of qualification for a production tax credit (PTC). This would define the start of a wind facility to be at construction, essentially putting a retroactive tax bite on projects already underway or in the planning stage.

The House measure would also end by 2027 a 10-percent investment tax credit (ITC) for utility-scale and commercial solar projects, which lawmakers had agreed in 2015 would be permanent.

The Senate’s version of tax reform legislation at first appeared to offer clean energy advocates some hope by leaving the PTC and ITC for renewable technologies alone.

However, in a move that some say was inadvertent, Senate tax writers inserted provisions that would seriously devalue renewable energy tax credits. The Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) provisions aim to target “earnings strippings,” the process by which large companies with overseas operations reduce their tax bills through cross-border payments that they can then deduct from their taxes in the United States. The BEAT program is designed to circumvent that stripping with a minimum tax of 10 percent of taxable income, then up to 12.5 percent by 2026.

But clean energy groups say the BEAT program would have a devastating, if unintended, impact on wind and solar energy development, putting at least $12 billion in investments at risk and collapsing the tax equity market.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said prior to the tax reform bill’s passage that he and others would work to exempt renewable energy tax credits from BEAT provisions (just as research and development tax breaks are exempt). However, the language remained in the tax reform bill that passed out of the Senate in a 51-49 vote during the pre-dawn hours last Saturday morning and is now headed to a House-Senate conference committee.

Investors, developers, manufacturers and corporate energy consumers in the U.S. renewable energy sector know that the BEAT provisions will undermine their ability to use production and investment tax credits, which only have value if they can be monetized. Major financial institutions have indicated that a BEAT program would prevent them from participating in tax equity financing, the principle mechanism for monetizing credits. For multi-national companies covered under the BEAT provisions, the renewable tax credits would be subject to what is, essentially, a 100-percent tax.

25x’25 lauds the intent of the BEAT provision authors to promote U.S. investment and job growth. But the program would virtually punish renewable energy tax credit recipients who invest in U.S. projects, and it would severely reduce American wind and solar energy investment, which now totals nearly $50 billion annually. Job creation – solar employment last year ran 12 times that of the U.S. economy and now totals more than 260,000; wind employs more than 100,000 – would be stymied.

Navigant Consulting projects that maintaining stable investment policy through the five-year PTC phase-out will create $85 billion in economic activity and help grow another 50,000 American jobs, including 8,000 jobs at U.S. factories, through 2020.

The 25x’25 Alliance urges stakeholders and all renewable energy advocates to reach out to their elected representatives in Washington and call on them to amend the BEAT program to exempt production and investment tax credits from the calculation of the base erosion tax, just as it has done so for research and development tax credits. BEAT’s potential to harm – unintentionally, many say – what is now a vigorous and growing renewable energy sector is unacceptable.

 

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Senate Needs Assurances that CEQ Nominee Will Support Renewable Energy

The nomination of Kathleen Hartnett-White as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) comes to a critical stage in the Senate this week, and lawmakers would do well to get her commitment – before she is confirmed – to do nothing to disrupt renewable energy enabling policies that are clearly working.

The CEQ coordinates federal environmental efforts in the United States and works closely with agencies and other White House offices on the development of environmental and energy policies and initiatives.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is reportedly set to vote Wednesday on Hartnett-White’s nomination, and if she is confirmed for the job, she would be advising President Trump and supervising the implementation of his executive orders on energy and the environment. If approved by the committee, her nomination would then move to the Senate floor for a vote.

She would bring to the job a resume that includes serving as a member and chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Prior to 2001, she served as then-Gov. George W. Bush’s appointee to the Texas Water Development Board, where she sat until appointed to TCEQ.

Most recently, Hartnett-White has served since 2008 as the distinguished senior fellow-in-residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conserevative think tank.

A deeper look into the positions she has taken in recent years on energy and environmental issues while at the TPPF raise some serious concerns from renewable energy stakeholders, agricultural producers and rural America advocates. Many see Hartnett-White’s views as a failure to recognize the many economic and environmental contributions cleaner energy alternatives are making to farming operations and rural communities.

Just as recently as 2014, she called for the repeal of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which sets biofuel-blending requirements for our nation’s transportation fuel supply. The RFS has been a major economic driver for corn and soybean producers who gain additional value when growing and selling ethanol and biomass-based diesel feedstocks to renewable fuel producers.

Also while at the TPPF, Hartnett-White, a strong gas and oil supporter, consistently condemned the RFS, one time calling it “counterproductive and ethically dubious.” She stepped back from that criticism during her confirmation hearing before the Senate committee earlier this month. But many members of the committee, as well as biofuel advocates, question the sincerity of the nominee’s turnaround on the issue, suggesting her sudden embrace of the standard during the hearing was a ploy aimed at tamping down opposition to her nomination.

At other points during the hearing, committee members also raised concerns about her past characterizations of an ongoing – and what has proven to be an inevitable – shift away from fossil fuels like coal to clean energy power resources, including wind and solar. They pointed to some of her remarks on the transition, which she has called “green folly” and “a false hope.”

Seemingly lost on Hartnett-White is the value of biofuels and renewable energy to U.S. agriculture producers and rural economies. Since the RFS was adopted in 2005, the number of operational U.S. ethanol plants has grown from 81 in 2005 to 213 in 2016, while ethanol production has grown from 3.9 billion gallons to 15.3 billion gallons, a nearly 300-percent increase. More to the economic point, U.S. ethanol industry jobs grew 121 percent, from some 154,000 in 2005 to nearly 340,000 in 2016, most of those in rural communities. And the value of the industry’s output has quadrupled, growing from from $8.1 billion to $32.8 billion.

The U.S. renewable energy sector, like wind, solar and geothermal facilities, hold 16.3 percent of the nation’s power producing capacity and generate 14.4 percent of its electricity, with both numbers growing rapidly. The sector employs 770,000 people across the country, most in rural areas, in manufacturing, installation and other related jobs. And renewable energy has drawn more than $400 billion in capital investments since 2004, much of that going to rural areas, including hundreds of millions paid out to landowners for wind turbine siting lease payments.

Rural America and farmers have taken their economic hits over the past four years, with much of the downturn attributable to low commodity prices. Now is hardly the time to add even greater uncertainty by moving away from government policies and programs that sustain the growth of renewable energy and its benefits to the agriculture sector and rural America. Stakeholders should call on Senate committee members now, and tell them to get assurances from Hartnett-White that she will do nothing to interfere with what has been a successful and financially stable clean energy glidepath for today and the future.

 

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COP 23 Delegates Look to Agricultural Landscapes for Solutions to Climate Change

A major breakthrough occurred at the 2017 global climate talks (COP 23), which concluded in Bonn, Germany, last Saturday – approval was granted to establish an agricultural work program.

COP 23 delegates directed the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to “address issues related to agriculture.”

What this means, is that the delegates officially recognized the need to address agricultural adaptation and mitigation challenges, and to put in motion a process to establish an official agricultural work program. This is an objective that has been sought by Solutions from the Land (SfL), since COP 21 in Paris two years ago.

COP23 Parties and observers are being called upon to submit recommendations for work plan elements by March 31 of next year. Elements to be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience;
  • Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management;
  • Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems;
  • Improved livestock management systems;
  • Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector.

While the process of developing an agricultural work plan will be long and laborious, the very intent represents a major breakthrough in positioning agricultural landscapes as a solution to climate challenges. Of particular interest will be ways agricultural landscapes can be managed to produce clean energy and sequester carbon.

To advance and scale up these win-win outcomes, SfL leaders Fred Yoder and Ernie Shea will be in Rome next month for the annual forum of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). There they will seek to build a stronger base of support for adaptive management planning and climate solutions that farmers, ranchers and foresters can deliver from the land.

COP23’s green light decision to address agricultural adaptation and mitigation challenges paves the way for North American producers and value chain partners working under the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), to scale up these high value, and often lower cost, climate smart agriculture solution pathways.

The Bonn conference makes clear that despite a limited “official” policy position, U.S. interests in combatting climate change will not go unrepresented. And because of non-governmental groups like SfL, the incredibly significant role of managing agricultural landscapes to meet a growing demand for sustainably produced food, feed and fiber, while simultaneously sinking carbon and producing renewable energy, is now at the forefront.

Political leaders at all levels around the world should embrace the efforts of those in agriculture who are working to maximize the use of their landscapes to help fight a changing climate. SfL stands ready to help policy makers develop the tools needed by these foresighted farm and grower groups to meet the growing challenges of an ever-changing future.

 

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Stakeholder Message to the White House: No New Solar Tariffs!

Recommendations for addressing a solar trade dispute are now at the White House, and it is expected that any decision President Trump might make on the case will have a profound impact on one of the more successful, strategically critical and economically important industries in this nation’s recent commercial history.

A 60-day clock started on Monday, setting a Jan. 12 deadline by which the president must either accept the recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Council (ITC), reject them, or set his own remedies. We urge other renewable energy advocates to join us and solar industry stakeholders in urging the White House to make the decision that will ensure the growth of the industry and protect tens of thousands of jobs.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) is expected to give the president its own input on the case, and will hold a public meeting Dec. 6 to discuss it. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is calling for stakeholders to submit to USTR their opposition to any tariffs or actions that could adversely affect the solar sector.

For some background on the case: Suniva, a Georgia-based firm principally owned by a Chinese company, and SolarWorld, owned by an “insolvent” German company, joined in a petition to the ITC in April, asking that penalty tariffs be levied on imported solar cells and panels. The commission determined in September that the imports were causing “serious injury” to the manufacturers and following a hearing in October, aired the recommendations it formally sent to the White House this week. (Those final recommendations are not expected to be made public until next month.)

The four ITC members each offered recommendations that varied, though three generally agreed on the imposition of tariffs over four years amounting to 30-35 percent (a price hike of about 10-11 cents), far lower than the punitive levies sought by Suniva of 25 cents per watt on all foreign-made solar cells and 32 cents per watt on all foreign-made panels. Suniva had also sought a floor price for all imported solar products of 74 cents per watt.

While SolarWorld called on the ITC to impose an import limit of at least 0.22 gigawatts for solar cells and 5.7 gigawatts for panels, before tariffs kicked in, the fourth commissioner called for a more generous quota – 8.9 gigawatts for the first year, then an increase of the duty-free limit by 1.4 gigawatts annually over the next four years. The commissioner also called for the U.S. sale of import licenses of one cent per watt, a scheme similar to one proposed by the SEIA.

The president needs to be reminded just who wins, should the ITC’s recommended remedies be imposed. With manufacturing representing a small segment of the U.S. solar industry, a vast majority of those in the sector here vehemently oppose the Suniva-SolarWorld petition, rightfully claiming that imposing any tariffs would raise the cost of solar in the United States and stymie a fast-growing economic sector.

While the petitioning firms say they’ve been harmed by imports artificially priced lower than what they can produce, others in the industry say that Suniva and SolarWorld made bad business decisions during the biggest boom in the history of American solar energy. The industry says the two companies failed to take advantage of opportunities in the burgeoning utility-scale segment of the market. Both firms, it is argued, are now being largely controlled by their creditors who are looking for a bailout.

Today, the solar component manufacturing sector has 38,000 workers making everything from sun trackers and inverters, to U.S. steel-made framing and racking systems. Those component manufacturers argue that if the tariffs are imposed, they will have to lay off workers, resulting in more jobs lost than those the tariffs might add.

That’s an important observation that needs to be brought to the president’s attention. The solar industry is an economic engine that is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy, employing more than 280,000 American workers, and has added more than 100,000 blue-collar jobs to the economy in the last five years. Last year, the industry created 1 out of every 50 new U.S. jobs.

The solar industry has professed trepidation over what Trump may ultimately decide. The president has often dismissed renewable energy. And he has repeatedly said that he will work to promote U.S. manufacturers over foreign competition – protectionist rhetoric that alarms solar sector leaders who fear the president will adhere to his “America First” worldview and impose the penalties on imported solar modules, regardless of the impact they will have on the overall solar industry and component manufacturers here at home. Stakeholders are urged to make clear to the White House their views: No new solar tariffs!

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Latest National Assessment Shows Ag, Forestry Needed in Mitigating Climate Change

A U.S. government report released last Friday adds even more certainty to the assertion that human activities play a principle role in climate change and that damages from the growing environmental threat are happening now.

What was released Friday, is the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) which serves as Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and assesses the science of climate change with a focus on the United States, now and in the future. This report was authored by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee.

The report, which is the fourth in an ongoing series of assessments, and which is updated every four years, was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. It was issued last Friday by 13 federal agencies, including USDA, EPA and NASA.

The assessment makes clear that the negative impacts of climate change are occurring now, occurring as temperatures have risen in recent decades to the warmest in the history of modern civilization.

As outlined in the assessment heatwaves have become more frequent in the United States since the 1960s, while extreme cold temperatures and cold waves are less frequent. Recent record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future for the United States, as annual average temperatures continue to rise. The annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) from 1901 through 2016. From now until 2050, annual average temperatures are expected to rise by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average registered from 1976 through 2005, “under all plausible future climate scenarios.”

The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate changes, leading to further challenges to regional ecosystems.

Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. As the temperatures increase, extensive drought may become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.

Of course, the assessment makes clear that the magnitude of climate change in the future will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) that are emitted globally.

“Without major reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature relative to preindustrial times could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or more by the end of this century,” the assessment warns, adding that with significant reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the absolute most, global scientists say, before permanent catastrophic impacts result.

The assessment is a call to action. Despite an administration that leans heavily toward policies favoring emission-producing fossil fuels – especially coal – hundreds of representatives from U.S. corporations, universities, state governments, clean energy advocacy groups and other stakeholder interests have joined with world leaders in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP23) being held this week and next. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP23 participants aim to build on the steps outlined by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In response to these challenges which combine to create a major threat multiplier to the agricultural sector, the North American Climate Smart Agricultural Alliance (NACSAA) – an initiative launched in 2015 by 25x’25’s parent organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL) – is assisting its members in advancing the three pillars of climate smart agriculture – sustainable intensification of production; actions that can be taken to build resiliency; and production systems that allow farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously improve profitability. Adaptive management strategies that the Alliance will examine include, among others, conservation systems like reduced tillage, cover crops, gypsum, and variable rate fertilizer technologies that reduce costs and improve soil health through the creation of additional microbial activity below the surface; risk management tools; infrastructure modifications and research priorities that will help producers maintain productivity in light of changing climatic conditions.

Next month in Rome at the annual forum of the Global Alliance of Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA), representatives of nations from across the globe, including SfL Chairman Fred Yoder and SfL President Ernie Shea, will share progress being made in North America to adapt to changing climatic conditions and deliver high value mitigation services from agricultural landscapes. The sequestration of carbon in soil through conservation tillage and cover crops, the judicious use of fertilizers to improve sustainability and soil carbon retention, and the reduction of GHG emissions provided by biofuels are among the assets that the agriculture and forestry sectors deliver in mitigating climate change.

Stakeholders are urged to join NACSAA in calling on policy makers and leaders – whether it’s in Bonn at COP23 or here at home – to embrace and scale up climate smart agriculture systems and practices, so the full range of goods and services delivered from the land can be realized.

 

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