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Clean energy bill in the works

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives appeared June 26 to be headed toward a vote on a major bill to reduce carbon emissions in the United States after a week during which House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., n...

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives appeared June 26 to be headed toward a vote on a major bill to reduce carbon emissions in the United States after a week during which House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., negotiated several big changes to make the bill more acceptable to agriculture, but most farm groups remained opposed.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act would require by 2020 a 17 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions below the level emitted in 2005. Utilities and other big emitters of carbons would receive allowances for a certain amount of emissions and would have to pay fees for exceeding the limits. Farms would not be subject to the cap, but suppliers of fuel, fertilizer and other agricultural inputs would be.

Carbon credits

The Obama administration and some farm and environmental lobbyists have said a program to improve the climate by reducing carbon emissions would help farmers and forest owners because they would be able to sequester carbon in the soil and get paid for it when other emitters of carbons bought credits to offset their carbon emissions. The bill, which was put together by House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., did not contain provisions to help agriculture, but Peterson prepared and got Waxman, Markey and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to agree to his amendment.

The Peterson amendment puts the carbon offsets program under the control of the Agriculture Department rather than the Environmental Protection Agency and allows farmers and forest owners to claim credit for actions they took as early as 2001 to increase carbon sequestration. The Peterson amendment also suspends for five years an EPA proposal to take international land use changes into account when analyzing whether U.S. agriculture production for renewable fuels meets standards for greenhouse gas emissions reductions -- a concept known as indirect land use analysis.

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Peterson urged rural members of Congress to vote for it particularly because of the provision that would stop EPA from using the indirect land use analysis.

Amendments

All farm groups opposed the bill before Peterson added his amendments and most remained opposed to the underlying bill on the grounds that the controls on carbon emissions would raise costs and have a negative effect on the farm economy.

Before the votes, all farm groups urged House members to vote for Peterson's amendment, but the underlying bill won endorsements from only the National Farmers Union, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, another pro-ethanol group.

NFU President Roger Johnson said that "a strong vote in favor of agriculture offsets and approving the underlying bill is a step in the right direction." But he added, "Much work remains to be done once the bill is sent to the U.S. Senate. NFU will be fully engaged and looks forward to further refining the legislation."

Wheat Growers President Karl Scronce, a producer from Klamath Falls, Ore., said his group was supporting the whole bill partly because "We acknowledge the inevitability of greenhouse gas regulation -- whether that comes through legislation produced by Congress or rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under authority given by the Supreme Court."

The National Corn Growers Association and the National Milk Producers Federation said they were encouraging a vote for the Peterson amendment and were neutral on the larger bill. Jerry Kozak, the milk producers' chief executive officer, said adoption of the Peterson amendment would show that "congressional leaders realize that agriculture has a great deal riding on the outcome of this historic legislation" and that he looks forward to working on further changes in the Senate.

The American Sugar Alliance did not take a position on the bill, a spokesman said.

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But the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to each member of the House to urge a "no" vote on the final bill because it would "create an 'energy deficit' for the United States by curtailing the use of fossil fuels without supplying any realistic alternative to make up the lost energy."

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