Northern Minnesota's U.S. House members gave cautious support Friday in passing major climate change legislation.
The bill passed 219-212 and had the support of Democrats Reps. Collin Peterson of the 7th District and Jim Oberstar of the 8th District. Both are chairman of major committees, and said they were reluctant in their support.
Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, won support for his amendment to make the bill more favorable to agriculture. As a result, the American Clean Energy and Security Act recognizes and rewards the agriculture and forestry sector for conservation activities and clean energy production.
He negotiated with bill authors to lessen the impact of the legislation on the agricultural community, or otherwise would have opposed the measure.
Under the legislation passed by the House, the agriculture and forestry sectors are clearly exempt from the bill's greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements, which means that farmers, ranchers and forestland owners will not be subject to the greenhouse gas emissions cap, Peterson said in a statement.
The bill establishes an agricultural and forestry offset program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will work with farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to design and implement plans that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon on their operations. Farmers, ranchers and forestland owners will earn offsets for the actions, and they can sell the credits to utilities, refiners, or other firms subject to limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.
"The offset program run by USDA creates a new market opportunity for farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who can play an important role in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States," Peterson said. "Farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners have been participating in conservation and carbon sequestration programs for many years, working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, and support a thriving renewable energy industry. This legislation recognizes those efforts and encourages these important activities."
The bill also boosts the renewable fuels industry by eliminating regulatory requirements that unfairly restrict U.S. renewable energy production. It prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from holding U.S. biofuels producers responsible for deforestation or other land use changes in other countries, and it expands the availability of biomass for energy production by improving the definition of what qualifies as renewable biomass, he said. It also includes a program that will help fund the installation of blender pumps, making clean-burning renewable fuels available to more Americans.
"This bill promotes homegrown, clean burning renewable fuels, which is one of the best things we can do for the economy and the environment," Peterson said.
Oberstar, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, gave his support for the bill but also laid out concerns for the bill's border adjustment mechanism, that it contains strong safeguards to ensure that U.S. manufacturers are not disadvantaged by imports from nations that haven't implemented carbon reduction technologies.
"Without further improvements, it is likely that the steel, wood product, and other energy-intensive sectors of our economy would face unfair competition from nations with insufficient environmental safeguards," Oberstar said in his statement on the House floor Friday.
"We must also ensure that the final climate change bill addresses regional concerns regarding the allocation of emissions allowances to utilities in the Midwest," Oberstar said. "While I am pleased that improvements were made to assist rural electrical cooperatives, I remain concerned that the current formula, which would allocate emissions allowances to utilities based on a combination of sales and emissions, would unfairly impact Midwestern power producers, and I am hopeful that further refinements can be made to ensure regional equity."
Oberstar said the bill ensures that the iron ore sector will receive emission allowances. It also provides a new biomass definition and provisions that provide credit for forestry and wood products for carbon sequestration.
The latter "are essential to ensure that our vital wood product sector is not disadvantaged in the climate change legislation," he said.
Nearly 30 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions produced in the United States comes from the transportation, second only to electricity generation, he said. And the transportation sector accounts for 68 percent of the total U.S. petroleum consumption.
"To reduce America's carbon footprint and to encourage the development and expansion of sustainable transportation options, the American Clean Energy and Security Act will implement a number of initiatives to significantly reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions" Oberstar said. "These provisions represent the next steps to mitigate the negative impact the transportation sector has on climate protection, while increasing the livability of our communities nationwide."