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Press Release

RELEASE: A Stormy Forecast for U.S. Agriculture

By Tom Kenworthy | June 1, 2009

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WASHINGTON, DC—Farm belt lawmakers are posing a challenge to passage of clean-energy legislation in Congress because of a proposed Environmental Protection Agency ruling that they claim could make it harder for ethanol produced from corn and other U.S. crops to meet the federal renewable fuel standard under a 2007 law. But torpedoing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454, would actually hurt farmers because harms linked to global warming—including drought, flooding, and other crop damage—would continue unabated.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) has threatened to bring down the entire ACESA if he doesn’t get his way on the renewable fuel standards and jurisdiction over ACESA in the agriculture committee. The Hill reported that committee Democrats want to alter “everything from fuel standards to renewable energy definitions to regulations governing the trading of carbon derivatives created through a cap-and-trade system.”

“[I]f they don’t want to change it, they’ll have to find the votes some other place,” Peterson told ClimateWire. “In my district a ‘no’ vote would be a good vote.”

The opposition of Peterson and some other agriculture committee Democrats stems in part from EPA’s draft ruling issued May 5 that determines whether fuels qualify as renewable. To do so, fuels over their life cycle must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared to gasoline. The draft EPA rule includes so-called “indirect land use” changes in that life-cycle determination. For example, if corn production in the U.S. for biofuel results in deforestation abroad that would mean more carbon emissions and would have to be taken into account in determining if corn ethanol is renewable.

But in fact, about 15 billion gallons of ethanol production capacity in place or under construction when Congress revised the 2007 RFS would be exempt from greenhouse gas reduction targets.

While it is only natural for lawmakers from states that have seen a boom in ethanol production to defend the interests of their constituents, they could make a tragic blunder if they block ACESA—the best prospect for action on global warming in the last decade. Without congressional action on climate change legislation, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would continue to rise and the impacts on agricultural would grow.

The link between global warming and extreme weather events is evident, and research predicts that the trend will intensify in coming decades. A 2008 report by the interagency U.S. Climate Change Science Program, “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate,” identified changes in extreme weather as “among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate.”

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