Biden looks to farmland to cut emissions

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019

Presidential candidate Joe Biden released a “plan for rural America” Tuesday that devotes considerable attention to combating carbon emissions from the agriculture sector, encouraging farmers to participate in the fight against climate change.

The focus on rural America is good politics for Biden, who is seeking to win over blue collar voters in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and succeed in Iowa, the first voting state and a dominant wind producer.

It is also smart climate policy, Democratic advocates say.

The agriculture sector represents 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but is often neglected by policymakers compared to the larger-emitting electricity and transportation sectors.

“As a political matter, engaging rural america in the low carbon economy is a brilliant strategy,” Paul Bledsoe, a former climate change adviser to President Bill Clinton, told me. Bledsoe was also a special assistant to former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in the Clinton administration, where he worked on agricultural issues.

Biden, who is leading in the polls, pledges to “ensure our agricultural sector is the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions.”

That target is consistent with his broader climate change plan released earlier this summer that seeks to have the U.S. obtain 100% of its energy from clean sources, and achieve net-zero emissions, no later than 2050 — a timeline consistent with goals sought by the United Nations as necessary to avoid the worst harms of climate change.

Storing carbon in soil: Biden’s rural America plan heavily focuses on supporting research into developing emissions-cutting techniques such as soil carbon sequestration, in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in soil.

“Soil is the next frontier for storing carbon,” Biden says in the plan.

To incentivize soil carbon sequestration, Biden proposes allowing corporations, individuals and other polluters to participate in carbon trading markets. Those entities could offset their emissions by paying into the Conservation Stewardship Program for farmers who sequester carbon. That voluntary program provides financial assistance to farmers who implement conservation techniques.

“The Biden team is capitalizing on the revenue streams farmers can tap into with emissions reductions,” Bledsoe said. “The revenue opportunities related to climate change are really just emerging in the farm economy and Iowa is on the cutting edge.”

A focus on new biofuels: Biden also seeks to invest in research to develop the “next generation” of biofuels.

Like many environmentalists, he wants to see the government move to cleaner and more sustainable second-generation biofuels that don’t tax farm land as much as corn ethanol does. He specifically references boosting research into cellulosic biofuels, which are derived from crop waste and not corn.

“Doubling down on these liquid fuels of the future will not only make value-added agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change – reducing emissions in planes, ships, and other forms of transportation – but will also create quality jobs across rural America,” the Biden plan says.

The ‘rural America’ plan also includes investments in wind and solar development, and green infrastructure to provide rural regions access to markets.

How Biden plan stacks up: To be sure, Biden is not the first Democratic presidential contender to promote emissions-cutting in agriculture. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigiegand Beto O’Rourke each spoke of supporting sequestration of carbon in soil in the first Democratic debates. The progressive group Data for Progress, which is grading candidates’ climate change platforms, has given high marks to Biden and O’Rourke, along with Michael BennetTulsi Gabbard, and Jay Inslee, for their devotion to sustainable farming and carbon storage in soil