rancher solar panels

Pictured here, a California rancher checks the controls for a solar-powered well pump.

In recent years, there’s been a great deal of talk about how agriculture can help solve the climate crisis with reports released by both the House and Senate agriculture committees.

The climate issue is being addressed during the transition to President-elect Joe Biden, and “he made it clear he sees this as an all-of-government agenda, domestic, economic, and foreign policy,” said Stef Feldman, campaign policy director for Biden, to the Washington Post.

A group of climate experts and former Washington, D.C. insiders formed a steering committee to unveil the Climate 21 Project. The project suggests “actionable steps to build

the capacity of his [Biden’s] administration to tackle the climate crisis quickly with the existing tools at hand.” The project covers 11 agencies and departments from the Executive Office to the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury, in addition to Agriculture and Interior.

“As the next administration seeks to tackle the wide-ranging and growing challenges associated with climate change, the need for an effective and efficient federal government workforce has never been clearer. Achieving ambitious climate goals will require rebuilding capacity across federal departments and agencies,” the summary memo states.

The memorandum stresses it is not “offering a policy agenda” but offering advice that the new administration could implement in the first 100 days through executive powers and working with Congress.

The following are some of the highlights of the 300-page recommendations.

Interior

Recognizing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other agencies in the Department of Interior have “extensive climate adaptation and resilience opportunities,” the report recommends increasing BLM’s budget. The department would direct the funds on greenhouse gas emission regulations by focusing on restoration and wildfire management and land-use planning, including quantifying carbon losses and gains in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process.

Additionally, the report suggests moving the BLM headquarters back to Washington, D.C., to improve morale and increase staffing, including “senior political staff to fill climate capacity gaps.” It also advocates for orphan well plugging and rulemaking on methane emissions, venting and flaring of wells.

USDA

“Through actions in both sectors, agriculture and forestry can provide 10-20 percent of the additional sequestration and emissions reductions needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” the summary report states.

These actions include emphasizing farmers’ and ranchers’ commitment to stewardship and “economic opportunities presented by investments in climate mitigation and resilience.” This includes establishing a carbon bank with funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation to invest in climate-smart land management practices and conservation programs. The report suggests development grants to rural utilities for green energy and smart grids and promotes funds for methane digesters, biofuels and wood product innovation.

It also proposes establishing a wildfire commission to “offer recommendations to increase the pace and scale of ecologically-sound forest restoration on federal, state, tribal and private forest lands, modernize firefighting response in the U.S., address development in the wildland-urban interface, and increase the use of prescribed fire.”

Other agencies

Recommendations across other agencies include the Department of Transportation increasing vehicle efficiency standards, investing in electric cars, increasing the number of charging stations, and improving local engagement to encourage local transportation innovation. The report also recommends appointing a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator early to establish a climate council to restore and protect coastal communities, establish “climate-ready fisheries management,” and support the development of offshore renewable energy programs.

“The first six months of the new administration are critical to advancing a robust economic policy and effective climate action. The Secretary [of Treasury] will need to make the case to American workers and businesses that policies to achieve a climate-oriented economy and sustainable investments can spur economic growth, ensure strong employment and resilient financial markets, avoid adverse impacts to low-income and disadvantaged communities, and enhance U.S. national security,” the summary memo states.

According to the Washington Post, the report was delivered “recently to Biden’s transition team.”

Members of the Climate 21 report’s steering committee are also on Biden’s transition team. Some of the members include Joseph Goffman, a former senior Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, and Robert Bonnie, a former undersecretary of agriculture. Bonnie advised former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack—who is also on the transition team—and later became the department’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment.

Other contributors to the Climate 21 report and members of the transition team include Arun Majumdar, the first head of the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects-Energy arm; Kevin Washburn, past assistant secretary for Indian Affairs and a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma; and Cecilia Martinez, who will head the Council on Environmental Quality team.

The report also features former Obama special assistants Jason Bordhoff, one of the lead authors of the report for the Department of Energy, and Joseph Aldy, who co-wrote recommendations for the Department of Treasury. Both advised the Biden campaign.

“The Climate 21 plan was really thinking deeply about how to move quickly and elevate climate change within the priority and staffing structure of the federal agencies, but not only the ones you would expect, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, but really to say this requires a whole-of-government approach,” Bordhoff told PBS NewsHour. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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