USFS proposes NEPA changes

View of the San Francisco Peaks from the northwest on the rim of Walker Lake crater, located north of the junction of Hart Prairie Road and FR 418 of Coconino National Forest, Arizona on Aug. 26, 2017.

Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee have introduced a package of bills to address climate change through the agriculture sector.

Spearheaded by the Republican leader of the House Agriculture Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA-15), the five bills vary in scope covering federal conservation programs, forest management, soil health and cost-share for precision agriculture.

“Agriculture Republicans are crafting innovative climate solutions by empowering the original stewards of our land—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters. These thoughtful, science-based policies will help promote a stronger agriculture economy by growing climate-friendly innovations that are already being carried out by producers,” said Thompson in a statement.

“We cannot sacrifice a healthy economy for a healthy environment, and vice versa. Natural solutions work, and we know producers are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

• SUSTAINS Act — Thompson introduced the Sponsoring USDA Sustainability Targets in Agriculture to Incentivize Natural Solutions (SUSTAINS) Act. According to a summary of the bill, “it gives the private sector an opportunity to help meet their public climate change commitments by investing in proven, scientifically-backed conservation programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.” The bill authorizes specific programs at USDA that allow for private-sector donations and incentivizes private funding by awarding sponsorship of targeted conservation initiatives.

• RESTORE Act — Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01) introduced the Restoring Environments, Soils, Trees and Operations to Develop the Rural Economy (RESTORE) Act of 2021. The bill authorizes the USDA secretary to work with states on “landscape-scale management projects” to address issues such as reducing wildfire risk, watershed restoration, forest health, and invasive species and disease management. Projects cannot exceed 75,000 acres and the selection of landscapes shall not be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

• FIRE Act — Along with the RESTORE Act to assist in forest management, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD-At Large) introduced the Forestry Improvements to Restore the Environment (FIRE) Act of 2021. The bill requires the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to conduct a survey 60 days after a wildfire is contained. USFS will conduct the survey first to lands where timber is under contract and second to lands where a stewardship contract was planned and an environmental document completed per NEPA. USFS would convert any timber sale to a salvage sale, and such conversions would be deemed as having met the purposes of an environmental assessment per NEPA.

• NO EMITS Act — Recognizing that soils are a carbon sink, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Il-13) introduced the Naturally Offsetting Emissions by Managing and Implementing Tillage Strategies (NO EMITS) Act of 2021. The legislation provides incentives for producers to adopt soil health cropping systems such as cover crops to increase farm productivity and optimize agriculture’s ability to sequester carbon. It would establish a Soil Health Transition Incentive Program that provides payments and technical assistance to producers transitioning their farms to soil health cropping systems. It would create a State Assistance for Soil Health Program, which provides matching grants for state and Tribal soil health programs.

• PRECISE Act — The Producing Responsible Energy and Conservation Incentives and Solutions for the Environment (PRECISE) Act introduced by Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA-01) would increase cost-share and payments for the purchase of precision agriculture equipment and technology. It would allow producers receiving payments under federal programs to also receive a loan under the Conservation Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to cover additional costs for the same practices on the same land up to 100 percent.

According to Politico, Thompson will be working to gain bipartisan support for the bills.

“I view these bills as discussion drafts and look to improve upon these proposals as Congress debates these issues,” Thompson told reporters.

Thompson stated the bills are in response to the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which was recently reintroduced. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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