Climate-Change Bill Addresses Importance of Rural, Supporters Say

Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker has introduced legislation that puts rural America at the center of addressing climate change, supporters say.

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Senator Cory Booker’s Climate Stewardship Act would invest billions in conservation-based farming practices, clean energy systems, establishing wetlands and restoring forests. Booker and groups that support the legislation say rural America plays a critical role in federal policy options to address climate change.

“In FDR’s New Deal, the federal government planted billions of trees, provided conservation incentives to family farmers and ranchers, created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and electrified rural America,” said Senator Booker (D-NJ), who is also running for the Democratic nomination for president. “After another year of extreme weather, no one understands the impacts of climate change better than our family farmers and ranchers.”

Some rural advocates, such as Missouri farmer and Family Farm Action Board Member Wes Shoemyer, support the Climate Stewardship Act for the ways it addresses rural challenges to a changing climate.

“Farmers need only look out our back doors to see how climate change is having a dramatic effect on our way of life,” Shoemeyer said in a statement. “The farmers I know are great patriots and so they stand ready to be part of the solution.”

Family Farm Action is joined by numerous rural and conservation organizations advocating for the bill. Among these are the National Family Farm Coalition; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Farm Aid; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; the Women, Food and Agriculture Network; and numerous state-based chapters of the National Farmers Union.

The legislation is designed to address problems identified by the fourth National Climate Assessment, which summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States. Released last fall, the report found that climate change in rural communities poses an outsized risk to the national economy, the report says.

“The farmers I know are great patriots and so they stand ready to be part of the solution.” — Family Farm Action Board Member Wes Shoemyer

The Climate Stewardship Act is likely to be assigned to the Agriculture Committee for further action. Passage of the bill seems unlikely without significant support from majority-party Republicans. Currently, no Republicans have supported the legislation. Numerous programs within the act have received bipartisan majorities repeatedly in the past. But any measure that proposes increasing public sector-spending to reduce greenhouse gas emissions faces an uphill battle in the current Senate.

Companion legislation is being proposed in the House by U. S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM). Given the Democratic majority, the Climate Stewardship Act is likely to face an easier path to passage in the House.

Bill advocates are likely to use its issues and policy proposals as they evaluate candidates in the 2020 election. (A more detailed look at candidate positions on rural economies, agriculture and climate issues is available from Daily Yonder.)

Booker’s bill invests heavily in agricultural systems that reduce emissions and job creation through more sustainable practices, according to the senator. “In addition to transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, another essential step that we must take is to increase the carbon sequestration in our soils, forests, and wetlands,” his statement said. He said the legislation will create “hundreds of thousands of new jobs” and make farms “more resilient and competitive.”

Many of the bill’s proposals involve farm bill programs that had their budgets or participation limited by the 2018 farm-bill debate. Such programs include:

  • Re-establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — establishes a new civilian conservation corps to provide youth from low income communities, communities of color and indigenous communities with training and experience while employing them in the reforestation and wetlands restoration of federal forests and wetlands.
  • Expanding funding for clean energy through the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) — increases funding from the current $50M to $1 billion per year to provide grants and loan guarantees for tens of thousands of farmers, ranchers and rural businesses to expand renewable energy production and make energy efficiency improvements.
  • Expanding the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)—increasing enrollment in CRP to 40 million acres by 2030. The additional acres would prioritize storing carbon in soils, establishing wildlife habitat and protecting streams and rivers from nutrient pollution. The current cap on CRP acres is 24 million acres, though CRP had as much as 40 million acres enrolled in the early 2000s.
  • Incentivizing climate-friendly farming practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – expands EQIP by offering additional funding to support adoption of “climate stewardship practices” in agriculture. Practices are defined as those that improve soil health, reduce nitrogen fertilizer applications, improve grazing lands and restoring forests.

The bill also provides additional resources for local food projects, public-private partnerships in conservation and mandatory funding for farmers and farmworkers experiencing mental health challenges.

Booker’s office estimates that the Climate Stewardship Act would support voluntary climate stewardship practices on more than 100 million acres of farmland, revive deforested landscapes by planting over 15 billion trees, support renewable energy projects throughout rural America and restore over two million acres of coastal wetlands.

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