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Published May 31, 2009, 12:00 AM

Ag is vital to climate policies

Climate change and renewable fuels are leading topics of discussion in local coffee shops, Capitol Hill hearings and international conferences. We can be grateful that North Dakota agriculture is well positioned to play an instrumental role in securing solutions to today’s pressing challenges.

By: Robert Carlson,

Climate change and renewable fuels are leading topics of discussion in local coffee shops, Capitol Hill hearings and international conferences. We can be grateful that North Dakota agriculture is well positioned to play an instrumental role in securing solutions to today’s pressing challenges.

Right now, climate change is a dominant policy issue in Washington. Recently, the Environmental Protection Association announced greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public health. The U.S. Supreme Court gave EPA a directive to regulate GHG emissions. At the same time, Congress is considering a bill that would more clearly define the nation’s climate change policies.

Climate change policy will affect everyone. Because of this, it is critical that federal policy be designed to work for the overall good of America. I have asked North Dakota’s congressional delegation to ensure agricultural offsets are included in any climate change legislation moving through Congress. Certain farming practices have scientifically been proven to “offset” or capture carbon dioxide in the soil – in effect removing a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

If EPA alone is responsible for addressing GHGs, the agency may well create a regulatory scheme that would not factor in the agricultural carbon credit benefits available (and already in use), and instead employ policies that would only increase production costs. EPA by its historic nature is geared toward penalties and fines to obtain compliance.

Since launching the Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program in 2006, Farmers Union has become the largest aggregator of carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. To date, almost $9.5 million has been earned for the nearly 4,000 Farmers Union members nationwide who have voluntarily committed to a legally binding contract to perform certain rules-based projects that are scientifically and independently verified.

With an aggressive timetable to move climate change legislation through Congress, all of us need to urge lawmakers to support the following:

  • Award the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to determine the parameters, promulgate regulations and serve as the administrator of an agricultural and forestry offset program.

  • Recognize the early programs to sequester carbon dioxide and allow those programs to be eligible under a mandated cap and trade system.

  • Avoid placing artificial limits on the use of domestic agricultural offsets.

  • Base carbon sequestration rates upon science.

The one cost that so far has been avoided by those debating climate change could be the most expensive in the long run: the cost of doing nothing. There is no doubt that from the industrial revolution on, human activity has affected the planet. We have come a long way since the days of acid rain and polluted rivers, toxic landfills and leaded paint. Our economy survived just fine, and we have enjoyed a healthier environment. The time is now to enact an effective and intelligent climate change policy. Agriculture needs to be an integral component of the policy solutions we already have at hand.


Carlson is president of North Dakota Farmers Union, whose 42,000 family members make it the largest general farm organization in North Dakota.

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