President Obama this week announced a comprehensive plan to address climate change. While debate over the cause of changes in climate patterns continues, few deny that flooding, drought, tornados and other damaging weather events continue to occur more often and across wider areas of the country.
In our view, the president’s plan offers a broad array of opportunities for U.S. agriculture and forestry to help meet the challenges of climate change, while presenting prospects of increased revenues through the innovation the sectors provide in land and resource management. It’s important to note that the White House strategy has the support of a wide array of farm organizations.
Very early on in the plan, the president notes “climate change represents one of our greatest challenges of our time, but it is a challenge uniquely suited to America’s strengths. Our scientists will design new fuels, and our farmers will grow them. Our engineers to devise new sources of energy, our workers will build them, and our businesses will sell them. All of us will need to do our part.”
We are pleased to see the administration’s unequivocal support of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, a requirement dating back to 2007 when lawmakers understood the need to turn to domestically produced, clean transportation fuel sources. The plan notes that “[B]iofuels have an important role to play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . and (the administration) is investing in research and development to help bring next-generation biofuels on line.”
The president should be commended for “doubling down” on the administration’s commitment to expanding renewable energy across the nation. Last year, the White House set a goal to issue permits for 10 gigawatts of renewables on public lands by the end of the year. The Department of the Interior achieved this goal ahead of schedule and the president has now directed the agency to permit an additional 10 gigawatts by 2020.
Since 2009, Interior has approved 25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine wind farms, and 11 geothermal plants, which will provide enough electricity to power 4.4 million homes and support an estimated 17,000 jobs.
The administration is also taking steps to encourage the development of hydroelectric power at existing dams. The agriculture and forestry sectors offer broad opportunities to generate clean power through small-scale hydropower projects.
On the efficiency front, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service will finalize as early as this fall a proposed update to its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program to provide up to $250 million for rural utilities to finance efficiency investments by businesses and homeowners across rural America. The department says it is also streamlining its Rural Energy for America Program to provide grants and loan guarantees directly to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.
With regards to adaptation, the president’s plan embraces the initiatives announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earlier this month establishing seven regional hubs that offer research and assistance for risk, adaptation, and mitigation to address extreme weather. The hubs will serve farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in each region in their efforts to plan for and adapt to changing climate conditions.
And 25x’25 has offered its own strategy for agriculture and forestry to deal with changing climate conditions, issuing a report that details adaptation recommendations, many of which are reflected in the USDA plan. The Alliance is supporting outreach partners, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and other producer groups, by offering presentations, workshops, webinars and additional forums to generate dialogue and foster greater understanding within the agriculture and forestry sectors of climate change’s impacts.
In launching his long-awaited climate change initiative, the president is wise to look to the agriculture and forestry sectors to deliver the near-term, high-value and low-cost solutions that only farmers, ranchers, and foresters can deliver. We’re confident that they are ready to meet the challenge.