Climate push renewed; Ag components part of president's plan

Jun 28, 2013
by DTN

The U.S. Supreme Court last Monday announced it will not hear an American Petroleum Institute plea to strike down the Obama administration’s decision to allow the sale of E15. The move effectively ends the legal challenges to E15, a fuel seen as a way for the ethanol industry to overcome the so-called blend wall.

The Obama administration will go around Congress by issuing executive orders to implement a number of programs and regulations through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address climate change, including many areas that will directly affect farmers in the U.S. and around the world, according to the president’s climate action plan released last Tuesday.

During his speech at Georgetown University in Washington Tuesday, the president said the Keystone XL pipeline proposal will get a close look through the eyes of climate change, although senior administration officials told reporters Monday the administration still was considering the new permit request to build a pipeline that would traverse north-central Nebraska farms and ranches.

“We can’t just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge we face,” Obama said. “This is more than about building just one pipeline.” He said it would be approved “only if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

Much of the opposition to the pipeline has centered on the carbon footprint left by transporting tar sands oil across the U.S., although tar sands oil already is transported from Canada into the U.S.

Though the president said he still held out hope that Congress would develop a “market-based solution” to climate change that would include cap-andtrade, “this is a challenge that doesn’t pause for partisan gridlock.”

Biofuels part of climate plan

The plan addresses a number of issues affecting U.S. farmers. That includes the administration’s continued support for the development of advanced biofuels through the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

“We’ll need scientists to invent new fuels,” Obama said. “We’ll need farmers to grow new fuels.”

The president has doubled down on his support for the RFS, while Congress considers a variety of measures that would change or eliminate the law that has sparked the expansion of the U.S. ethanol industry in the past decade.

“Biofuels have an important role to play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector,” the climate action plan states.

“That is why the administration supports the Renewable Fuels Standard, and is investing in research and development to help bring next-generation biofuels on line.”

The president’s plan cites work by USDA, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop the use of biofuels by the military and commercial sectors, as an example of how the RFS can work.

Biofuels advocacy groups expressed support for the president’s plan following the speech.

Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Dinneen said the president’s support of the RFS is needed.

“President Obama has been a strong supporter of this program, which has helped reduce this country’s dependence on environmentally hazardous petroleum while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent to 50 percent when directly compared to gasoline,” Dinneen said in a statement.

“The RFS is delivering demonstrable environmental benefits and fuel choice to drivers, supporting nearly 400,000 jobs domestically, and stimulating investment in new renewable fuel innovations that promise even greater benefits.”

Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs for the National Biodiesel Board, said in a statement that biodiesel plays a role in reducing carbon pollution.

“As this plan makes clear, a key part of the equation in addressing climate change is breaking our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said.

“Biodiesel can help do that in a practical, cost-effective way. Used in today’s clean, efficient diesel engines, biodiesel already is the first EPA-designated advanced biofuel to reach one billion gallons of annual production.”

The president’s climate policy calls for the regulation of coal-fired plants and natural gas production. Coal-fired power plants account for some 40 percent of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S.

Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce said Tuesday that the president’s plan would be costly to the power industry and the economy as a whole.

“The president’s war on affordable energy is a war on jobs,” committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R- MI, said in a statement.

“We have weathered a very difficult economy the last five years and we are still not out of the woods. Punishing abundant American energy will threaten jobs, hobble our manufacturing resurgence, and cause electricity costs to go up—hurting folks in Middle America the most.”

Other ag provisions

Other agriculture points of interest in the plan include the following; • Steps to mitigate the effects of drought: DOE is expected to release an assessment of climate-change effects on the energy sector, including power-plant disruptions caused by drought.

Earlier this year, USDA and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released several studies outlining potential challenges a changing climate poses for farmers and ranchers. • Steps to maintain agricultural sustainability: USDA is developing seven new regional climate hubs to deliver “tailored, sciencebased knowledge to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

“These hubs will work with universities and other partners, including the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to support climate resilience,” the plan states.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation provide grants and technical support to agricultural water users for more “water-efficient practices in the face of drought and longterm climate change,” the plan said.

The president’s plan includes developing what he calls the “National Drought Resilience Partnership” designed to help communities prepare for future droughts.

“By linking information (monitoring, forecasts, outlooks, and early warnings) with drought preparedness and longer-term resilience strategies in critical sectors, this effort will help communities manage drought-related risks,” the report said.

• Steps to help countries around the world respond to climate-change risks: That includes helping communities increase water storage and water-use efficiency, “develop innovative financial risk management tools such as index insurance to help smallholder farmers and pastoralists manage risk associated with changing rainfall patterns and drought,” and by distributing drought-resistant seeds and promoting best-management practices to “increase farmers’ ability to cope with climate impacts,” the president’s plan stated. • Steps to reduce methane emissions, although the plan provides no specifics: “Methane currently accounts for roughly 9 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions and has a global warming potential that is more than 20 times greater than carbon dioxide,” the plan said.

The president calls for the development of an interagency strategy including USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DOE, focused on “assessing current emissions data, addressing data gaps, identifying technologies and best practices for reducing emissions, and identifying existing authorities and incentive-based opportunities to reduce methane emissions.”

The plan cites efforts in agriculture to construct methane digesters through loans, incentives and other federal and state assistance programs.

U.S. farmers have been concerned for years that EPA planned to regulate methane coming from cattle and other livestock. — Todd Neeley, DTN