The Senate Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Tom Harkin (D-IA), held a hearing on July 22 examining the role of agriculture and forestry in climate change legislation. Harkin stated his desire to see a central role for agriculture and forestry in a climate bill as a strategy to earn income for producers while reducing the economic costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee heard from a panel of Administration witnesses, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who stated that both the agriculture and forest sectors would have to play a huge part in a climate change program. He also pointed to a recent study that indicates the House bill would have more benefits than costs to both of those sectors. Another panel featured private sector representatives, all of whom stressed that any cap and trade program must contain an agriculture and forestry offsets program such as the one in the House bill. One of those panelists was Jo Pierce, a family forest landowner from Maine, testifying on behalf of the Forest Climate Working Group. He pointed to the need to engage the private forest sector with economic incentives to capture and store carbon on their lands. Senate leadership has indicated a September 28 deadline for all relevant Senate committees to complete their pieces of a climate bill. AF&PA continues to stress, among other things, that the definition of biomass for energy and climate change legislation contain requirements for sustainable forest management. For more information, contact Nadine Block at 202.463.2753 or email@example.com.
Vilsack Announces Recovery Act Projects for Forest Facilities and Trails
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced on Wednesday, July 23, the release of $274 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for forest facilities and trails. Projects announced include the installation of solar panels and other facility upgrades, trail projects, and ecosystem and watershed projects in areas of high visitation. For more information on these and other projects currently funded under the ARRA, visit http://fs.usda.gov.
Fire Funding Legislation Gets Senate Hearing
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard officials from the Interior and Agriculture Departments on Tuesday, July 21st discuss ideas on how to pay for catastrophic fire suppression costs. Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources Jay Jensen and Assistant Secretary of Interior Rhea Suh said they want a proposed fund to be tapped into only if the agencies ran out of money in their regular fire suppression funds budgets. The FLAME Act (H.R. 1404 and S. 561) would establish a fund that could be tapped any time a fire met certain requirements, including being at least 300 acres in size. The House approved H.R. 1404 this spring by an overwhelming vote, but not before amending the legislation to allow the Federal agencies to use the funds for a variety of non-fire purposes.
Kentucky State Forester and President of the National Association of State Foresters, Leah MacSwords, testifying on behalf of a coalition of supporters including AF&PA, supported the Senate version of the bill and objected to certain provisions in the House-passed version. MacSwords criticized a House amendment that would allow money from the FLAME fund to be used for hazardous fuels treatment, saying the fund should only pay for suppression.
Jensen said the Administration and lawmakers have the same goal of establishing separate funding for large, catastrophic fires. But he added, "We believe that the Administration's approach through a contingent reserve is the best budget mechanism to provide the needed funds." The Administration supports $357 million for a contingency reserve fund for next year. The fund would be tapped only if federal agencies exhaust the $1.5 billion appropriated, 10-year average, for fire suppression. Both the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills include this contingency fund. For more information, contact Bill Imbergamo at 202.463.2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wisconsin Forests Subject of Field Hearing
The House Agriculture Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee held a field hearing on the management of Wisconsin’s forests on Monday, July 20th in Appleton, Wisconsin. AF&PA Member Bill Johnson testified before the Subcommittee, urging further improvements to the definition of renewable biomass that was adopted as part of the American Climate and Energy Security Act (HR 2454), which passed the House on June 26th. Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI), who represents Appleton noted that “Northeast Wisconsin has always been known for its extensive forests which have played an important role in the housing and paper industries. Now, as our country moves toward greater energy independence, the forests of Northeast Wisconsin have the potential to meet our nation’s needs for renewable energy.”
Bill Johnson told the Subcommittee that depressed lumber markets have hurt the overall economics of the wood and paper industry, noting that “the economics of our industry, which are always difficult,” and now “even more precarious. That makes it critical that policies which are intended to promote biomass utilization are carefully crafted to ensure that the existing wood and paper industries receive fair and equitable treatment.” He urged the Committee to pursue a biomass policy which includes “reasonable sustainability requirements such as a written harvest or forest management plan developed by a credentialed forestry professional, or adherence to a forest management or wood procurement certification system.” For more information, contact Bill Imbergamo at 202.463.2479 or email@example.com.
Here's what some 200 experts from conservation, government, business and academia found most interesting at a recent convening by the American Forest Foundation:
* There's been a convergence across different types of markets in what's required to demonstrate ecological credibility.
* State and federal agencies are breaking down silos, increasingly moving toward cross-department commonality that can allow people to access multiple markets.
* The conservation community sees a huge opportunity to take the existing markets and make them more strategic, achieving better on-the-ground conservation results.
* As both the credibility and strategic impact have risen, so too has the investment interest that's looking for conservation projects of proven value. Voluntary carbon markets alone reached $705 million in 2008, a doubling in just one year.
Together, these new directions signal important conservation opportunities through market-driven strategies. From our vantage point, as a conservation group focused on securing sustainable forestry on private land, we see ecosystem markets as a critical step toward making the conservation option viable for more of the 10 million family forest owners in America. That is why we've made it a priority to convene the best minds to confront what's working and what's not, as together we build ecosystem markets that succeed.
According to AFF board member Sara Vickerman, the optimism voiced by conservation participants at our June gathering in Portland, Oregon, is a big change from the past. This is an important area to watch, as the carbon markets expand and as multi-sector market registries like TZ1 develop exponentially as an internationally recognized way to trade high-quality credits.
Learn more about the trends, lessons, and challenges of the growing ecosystem marketplace by visiting our website and downloading the presentations. If you would like to receive future updates on ecosystem markets, email Todd Gartner, Conservation Incentives Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-463-5181.
President and CEO
American Forest Foundation
The American Forest Foundation is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization that was chartered in 1981 with the purpose of encouraging the long-term sustainability of America's forests, restoring wildlife habitat, and developing quality environmental education programs, to assure that Americans today, and in the future, enjoy healthy, growing forests. Visit www.forestfoundation.org.
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This bill passed the House and is currently pending in the Senate. Maryland Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation opposed this bill. Congressman Bartlett was the only member of the House Delegation to oppose the bill on final passage.
· Farm Bureau opposes Climate Change legislation and argues that it would increase input costs to farmers and ranchers because the cost to sue fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) would increase. As fuel, electricity, general energy and manufacturing costs increase, so to would fertilizer!
· Climate Change legislation could ultimately lead to regulation of production methods and practices – an outcome raising significant concerns.
· The agriculture sector is being asked to accept higher costs from the Climate Change bill; while all farmers and ranchers will face potentially higher costs, only a few stand to benefit. While some claim the legislation is good for agriculture, the fact is most fruit and vegetable producers will not qualify for offset benefits. Not all farmers will have the capacity to site wind turbines. Western ranchers whose operations are dependent on the use of federal lands for livestock forage have very limited offset opportunities. Not all areas of the country are able to productively adopt conservation tillage practices, thus restricting their offset possibilities. Yet ALL producers will incur the same increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs as all Americans.
· The Climate Change bill does not provide incentives to develop new sources of energy – such as nuclear energy. The bill necessarily results in the reduction of coal fired energy production and offers no clear alternatives.
· The Climate Change bill puts a costly burden on U.S. businesses even if our competitors in India and China refuse to adopt similar practices. The result of U.S. only greenhouse gas reductions will have very limited impact on the environment and will result in a further migration of U.S. farm and manufacturing jobs overseas.
Estate Tax Reform
Congress will be focusing on tax issues later this year and Estate Taxes will be one focus of the bill. Farm Bureau is seeking a higher exemption for agriculture operations - so farms and ranches are not harmed. The future of American agriculture depends on the Estate Tax exemption, and whether or not farmers can afford to purchase the land they need! Because Estate Taxes influence the sale of land, this tax can interfere with the orderly transfer of farmland to the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
The facts are:
· Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations own 98 percent of our nation's 2 million farms and ranches.
· Estate taxes threaten family owned farm and ranches and the livelihoods of families who make their living in production agriculture.
· It takes two and half years of farm returns for a moderate-sized farm operation to pay off the Estate Tax owed.
Clean Water Restoration Act
Farm Bureau members were extremely successful last Congress in stopping this damaging bill from moving from the House. This year, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 787, which would greatly expand the regulatory reach of the Clean Water Act to the detriment of U.S. economic growth and agricultural operations. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed this bill and it is moving towards consideration in the full Senate.
· If passed, nearly every wet area in the nation -- even if water is only present for a few days could become regulated by the federal government! This could include everything from ditches, to farm ponds, to prior converted cropland and possibly groundwater.
· This proposal would move the CWA beyond protecting wetlands and waterways, and create a regulatory nightmare for farmers, ranchers and property owners.
Health Care Reform
The House Energy and Commerce Committee continued its markup of health care legislation this week.
Farm Bureau wants to ensure that farm and ranch businesses that employ others are not burdened with costs that they cannot afford and opposes any healthcare legislation that includes an employer mandate. Farm Bureau sent a letter explaining our opposition to members of House.
Additionally, the letter addressed Farm Bureau’s belief that health care reform legislation should address the disparities that exist between rural and non-rural communities. Farm Bureau urged committee members to:
- support equitable Medicare payment rates to rural hospitals and physicians and expand;
- enhance Medicare beneficiary access to telehealth services;
- address the critical shortage of qualified health care professionals and health care facilities; and
- create incentives such as scholarships and loans to students who agree to provide health care services in medically underserved areas.
Farming and ranching businesses operate on tight profit margins and are cyclical. Requiring employers to provide insurance coverage will put added financial strain on already struggling farm and ranch businesses because payment will be due whether or not a farm or ranch business turns a profit.
Farm Bureau believes that any health care reform must address the disparities that exist between rural and non-rural communities. There continues to be a critical shortage of health care facilities and qualified health care professionals in rural areas. In addition, many rural residents depend on small rural hospitals that face unique health care delivery challenges due to their size and case-mix.
Rockville, MD - Membership in the Agricultural Transportation Efficiency Coalition (AgTEC), which supports increasing the overall gross vehicle weight limits for trucks, reached one hundred on July 20, with the addition of Evergreen Packaging and Columbia Forest Products. The Coalition now represents 55 associations and 45 businesses.
"As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee takes up the task of developing its surface transportation blueprint for the next five years, AgTEC will be in a strong position to weigh in," commented AgTEC Co-Chair Bud Wallace, President of Wallace Transport. "Truckers and shippers both are working with us to ensure that, with more investment in our Interstate system, we are able to use it efficiently."
AgTEC strongly supports Congressman Mike Michaud's (D-Maine) "Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009" (HR 1799), which would grant states the option of raising the current 80,000-pound gross vehicle weight limit on their Interstate highways to 97,000 pounds, for trucks equipped with a sixth axle, with the assessment of a new dedicated fee to support bridge repair and maintenance. Numerous studies and projections show that this reform will save fuel, reduce emissions, reduce congestion, reduce pavement wear, improve public safety, and improve the competitive position of U.S. manufacturing industries, including those dependent on raw material from farms and forests.
AgTEC is working to ensure the inclusion of this bill's provisions in the 2009 Highway Reauthorization Bill, which will set federal infrastructure improvement priorities for the coming five years.
The Mission of the Agricultural Transportation Efficiency Coalition is to improve the efficiency of transporting raw, unprocessed agricultural and forest products from farms and forests to processing facilities. To learn more about AgTEC, or to join in the campaign, please visit www.ag-haul.org .
(WASHINGTON D.C.) - Congressmen Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Greg Walden (R-OR) joined together today to form the bipartisan Congressional Healthy Forests Caucus.
The caucus is designed to advocate for the implementation of forest policies that recognize the important role America’s federal, state and private forestlands can and should play in our economic recovery and sustainability as well as providing solutions to environmental problems.
The caucus will be co-chaired by Schrader and Walden, who have invited Democrats and Republicans from across the country to join them in advocating for healthy forest policies.
“Many communities in Oregon and across this nation have been struggling for decades because of forest policies that don’t make sense in today’s times,” Rep. Schrader said.
“Our forests can be managed in an environmentally-friendly way while also producing jobs and creating opportunities for renewable energy sources such as biomass and reducing carbon emissions through sequestration. Too often these potential benefits are overlooked when drafting forest policy; our caucus aims to educate our Congressional colleagues on the economic and environmental benefits of smart forest policy.”
“Flawed federal forest policies have exacted too steep a price on Oregonians in terms of degraded environmental quality, lost jobs, and decreased economic opportunity,” Rep. Walden said.
“Congress should expand the strongly bipartisan and successful Healthy Forests Restoration Act, and fix broken policies that prevent the professional foresters from doing the prevention and post-fire rehabilitation work that the forests and rural communities so badly need done. This caucus will serve as an educational resource for members from both parties who want to do the right thing for the environment and America’s rural forested communities.”
Schrader and Walden listed the following as goals for the Healthy Forests Caucus:
* Maintaining healthy forests and healthy communities
* Creating green jobs in rural America
* Advocating for a clear and inclusive definition of renewable biomass and for equal treatment of biomass with other renewable energy sources through production tax credits
* Enabling on-site renewable biomass energy production to count towards renewable energy objectives
* Sustaining healthy forests, watersheds, and wildlife habitat not by lawsuit but by recognizing and encouraging forestry management practices
* Obtaining tax credits for actively managed forest activities that result in additional sequestration of carbon dioxide
* Reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfires through active forest management
* Increasing opportunities for green timber sales
* Supporting the efforts to secure adequate funding for the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management
* Highlighting the compatibility of our nation’s forest solitude opportunities with healthy forest management