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Talking to the House Committee on Agriculture

Last week I testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committe on Agriculture.  The topic, not surprisingly, was carbon offsets.  I must admit that I went girded for battle.  Recall that this was the committee that forced a compromise in the leadup to passage of Waxman-Markey this past June. Many, myself included, felt the changes that House Ag required significantly weakened the bill.

The hearing really surprised me – in a pleasant way. Most striking was the general lack of knowledge about many of the basic design issues surrounding cap-and-trade (these people are busy and climate is not first or likely even second on their agenda) combined with what appeared to be some genuine interest in learning more. Minds seemed relatively open – albeit with a very strong desire to protect the interests of farmers.

How refreshing.

My basic proposal – to ditch an ag offsets program in favor of a much expanded climate conservation subsidy program – was not well received, mostly (I think) because it was not well understood. Several members ruled the proposal out because they believed the only way to fund it was via the appropriations process. My suggestion was to raise money via a permanent free allocation of allowances from the cap-and-trade market.

I learned a lot too. Most interesting was the strong interest on the part of Ag members in understanding how benefits from offsets would be distributed across crops and regions. The question was not, will agriculture on the whole benefit; rather it was will my rice farmers benefit or will those corn belt farmers get all the goodies. Most analysis don’t make this kind of breakdown. Also of interest to the members was whether farmers or landowners of farmland would benefit. This is a key point that has not been given enough consideration in the thinking about biosequestration offsets.

One always learns from visiting the Hill.

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