President Joe Biden vowed to cut emissions and build back better as a part of his climate change agenda in an address to world leaders on Earth Day. With his pledge, there remains questions and speculation about the role of agriculture, particularly with the 30x30 Plan.
Before Biden’s speech at the Leaders Summit on Climate, the White House released a fact sheet laying out how the administration will reduce greenhouse gases by 50-52 percent from 2005 levels before 2030.
“To develop the goal, the administration analyzed how every sector of the economy can spur innovation, unleash new opportunities, drive competitiveness, and cut pollution,” the announcement read.
Biden announced investments in infrastructure, including the goal of reaching 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, rolling out 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, developing plants for greener steel and cement, and reducing carbon from the transportation sector.
“We are resolving to take action, not only our federal government, but our cities and our states all across our country, small businesses, large businesses, large corporations, American workers in every field. I see an opportunity to create millions of good paying middle-class union jobs,” Biden said at the summit.
The announcement painted a broad picture of agriculture’s role, stating the U.S. can reduce emissions “through a range of programs and measures including nature-based solutions for ecosystems ranging from our forests and agricultural soils to our rivers and coasts.”
According to Chris Clayton, DTN ag policy editor, the announcement relieved some fears for the biofuels industry after the statement stated emissions reduction through the transportation sector could be achieved by “very low carbon new-generation renewable fuels.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters biofuels would help reduce emissions “to the extent we can increase our blends of biofuels, that’s going to have a benefit towards climate change and towards our reduction goals.”
Vilsack also addressed the issue that conserving 30 percent of lands and water in the U.S. by 2030 amounts to a “land grab.”
“There’s no intention to take something away from folks,” Vilsack told reporters. “It’s really designed to figure out creative and innovative ways to encourage folks to participate in what I think many farmers and ranchers have already been doing and may be inclined to do more if the right incentives are in place.”
The land grab assertion came after the hearing for Jewel Bronaugh to be the deputy secretary of the USDA. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) stated South Dakotans are concerned the Biden administration would use the 30x30 Plan to acquire more land, saying “land acquisition shouldn’t be on the table.”
“We need to keep working lands working. So, we have an opportunity to partner with our farms, forestland owners, and others, in a way to do that, in recognizing that history of stewardship, to honor private property rights, and to assure that we have voluntary incentive-based opportunities for our farmers and our forest owners to participate,” Bronaugh stated at the hearing.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, wrote a letter to Biden expressing concern about the 30x30 Plan and seeking clarification on the initiative.
“The concerns of farmers and ranchers are escalating regarding the intent of the 30x30 goal, the definition of conservation, and the metrics for defining success, among other things,” Duvall wrote. “We urge you to move swiftly to provide clarity about your intentions for the initiative, and when you do so, it will be important for you to invite public comment because farmers and ranchers are leaders in conservation and deserve to have their voices heard.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) also said that Biden’s 30x30 Plan could not undermine the success of cattle producers’ voluntary conservation efforts and producers “should be rewarded, not penalized.”
“Without partnership through voluntary conservation programs and a two-way dialogue, any effort they make will be fragmented and ineffectual in the long-term,” NCBA said in a Facebook post.
Vilsack also said 30x30 could mean increasing conservation working lands. In April, Vilsack announced the USDA is increasing the amount of acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program by 4 million acres and increasing rental rates. “Our focus is going to continue to be on marginal and the least-productive acres in an effort to try to encourage folks to participate in this program,” Vilsack said.
4 pounds a year?
Following Biden’s climate summit and while agriculture groups were seeking clarification, The Daily Mail, a British news site, inaccurately reported how Biden’s climate plan called for the consumption of only one burger a month, or about 4 pounds a year. Several U.S. news outlets subsequently carried the misleading news report.
The fabrication was based on a 2020 study by the University of Michigan which stated cutting animal-based foods by half would reduce greenhouse gases by 1.6 metric tons. If U.S. consumers also reduced beef consumption by 90 percent, the emissions savings would be even more significant. Many news reports fixated on the limit of four pounds of red meat per year, a figure stated in the study for substantial reductions in emissions.
Fox News anchor John Roberts retracted the outlet’s story, stating, “A graphic and a script incorrectly implied that it was part of Biden’s plan for dealing with climate change. That is not the case.”
Vilsack responded to the news reports, denying any effort by Biden to reduce the consumption of meat in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Vilsack also acknowledged there are “activities” in individual states to discourage meat consumption.
“In the political world, games get played and issues are injected into the conversation, knowing full well that there’s not a factual basis for the issues, but also knowing that somebody is going to pick it up, and somebody is going to ask about it,” Vilsack said.
The NCBA also reiterated Biden has not called for reducing beef consumption as part of his 30x30 or climate plan in their Facebook post.
“We are in regular communication with USDA and the Department of the Interior to emphasize the importance of the high-quality protein beef provides in the American diet, as well as producers’ long history of environmental stewardship,” NCBA said. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor