USDA Conservation Innovation Grants Focus on Climate Change
June 9th, 2011
On Wednesday, June 8, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $17.4 million in FY2011 Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) funding for nine large-scale greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction projects in 24 states. These projects are intended to demonstrate practices and systems which farmers and ranchers can use reduce GHG emissions or sequester carbon. In addition, the projects include partners that will test protocols and methods for modeling and measuring GHG reductions, techniques for verifying that practices have occurred, and approaches to developing cap and trade markets for GHGs. NRCS will also provide $10 million in funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to eligible producers to implement conservation practices that reduce GHG emissions.
Details of the nine projects are available on the NRCS website. Most of the projects are multi-state projects that examine GHG emissions for an agricultural sector or within a region. For example, a project led by the Environmental Defense Fund in California and Winrock International in Arkansas will work with a group of rice growers in each state to examine GHG reduction potential in rice production and develop verification protocols and other factors that would be necessary for farmers to access cap-and-trade markets for GHG reduction. A project led by Ducks Unlimited in South Dakota and North Dakota will examine the GHG reduction benefits of grassland livestock production as opposed to conversion of the land to cropland. A Dairy Research Institute project encompassing 12 states will produce a dairy stewardship toolkit along with information on funding sources to pay for dairy conservation practices.
The CIG GHG funding, which includes projects that lay the groundwork for GHG credit trading and markets, comes in the middle of challenges to the regulation of GHGs and carbon trading markets. Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA would award the CIG grants to address GHGs in December 2010 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010. At the Cancun summit hopes were dimmed for renewal and strengthening of the international Kyoto Protocol for controlling GHG emissions, with many countries announcing voluntary efforts but no binding measures adopted. A number of climate change deniers were elected to the U.S. Congress in the November 2010. In April 2011, the Senate rejected numerous legislative riders that would have limited EPA authority to regulate GHGs while the House passed H.R. 910 that would strip EPA of authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate pollutants because of their impact on climate change.
Even in California, which has targeted GHG emissions under Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, controversy has developed over how to reduce GHG emissions. The California Air Resources Board chose a cap-and-trade system to reach the mandated 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2020. Environmental justice groups sued the Board based on concerns that low income communities will be less likely to see lowered GHG emissions, including GHGs that are harmful to human health as well as other harmful air pollutants that may be lowered with lower GHG emissions. The groups would rather see a carbon tax or other system that it is applied in all regions and less likely to leave people in some communities coping with higher local air pollution levels than others. On March 17, a California Superior Court Judge ruled that the Board had violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not considering the impacts of a carbon tax or other alternatives to a cap-and-trade system. The ruling may delay implementation of AB 32 for up to a year.