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Climate Action Heats up in Congress – What Does it Mean for Agriculture?

February 14, 2019


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference announcing Green New Deal legislation in Washington, D.C., on, Feb. 7, 2019. Photo credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Now in their second month on the job, the 116th Congress is increasingly focusing their attention on the very real effects of climate change – as well as the need to develop and advance policy solutions to address pressing climate-related threats. Farmers, ranchers, and rural communities have endured increasingly frequent and devastating natural disasters, and are frontline stakeholders in today’s climate change adaptation and mitigation conversations.

As was illustrated in last year’s 4th National Climate Assessment, agriculture and rural communities continue to feel the effects of climate change through reduced agricultural productivity, degraded soil and water resources, as well as health challenges for rural populations and livestock. All of these effects also have major implications for farmers’ and rural communities’ economic stability.

Additionally, we know that while agriculture does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, the industry is also uniquely positioned to contribute to climate change mitigation. Farmers and ranchers throughout the country are already actively contributing by changing practices and managing agricultural systems in new ways that better reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and our members across the country are committed to seeking out policy solutions that provide farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to actively contribute toward climate change mitigation and adaptation. In this post, we provide an update on recent congressional developments on climate change through the lens of sustainable agriculture.

Green New Deal

The climate effort gaining the most attention over the past several weeks has been the Green New Deal, a framework introduced by Representative Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Markey (D-MA). The Green New Deal is designed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and also to create new, high-wage jobs. The resolution (H. Res 109/S. Res 59) proposes sweeping changes to nearly every sector, including manufacturing, energy, waste management, transportation, infrastructure, and agriculture. While comprehensive in scope, at this point the framework does not include many actual details. The intent, as stated by the Green New Deal’s authors, is to continue building out the framework with more specifics over time. Representative Ocasio Cortez and Senator Markey were joined in signing the resolution by nearly 70 Representatives and 10 Senators thus far.

NSAC is pleased to see broad language included in the resolution relating to agriculture, and look forward to continuing to provide information and recommendations as more specific proposals related to climate change and agriculture arise.

Congressional Hearings and Committees

In addition to the release of the Green New Deal and the reintroduction of a carbon pricing bill earlier this year, several congressional committees and subcommittees have recently held hearings to examine the effects of climate change and strategies for mitigation. Recent Committee and Subcommittee hearings have been held in the: House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands within Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Congress has also made progress on naming members to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which was newly established in the 116th Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reestablished the Select Committee this year, and named nine Democrats to it, including: Representatives Kathy Castor (FL), Ben Ray Luján (NM), Suzanne Bonamici (OR), Julia Brownley (CA), Sean Casten (IL), Jared Huffman (CA), Mike Levin (CA), Donald McEachin (VA), and Joe Neguse (CO). Republicans will also have six seats on the Select Committee, but as of yet no Members have been named. The Select Committee with not have the authority to draft legislation, as was originally proposed by many members who also put forward the Green New Deal, but it will play a key role in providing guidance and recommendations regarding how Congress will act on climate change moving forward.

Farm Bill Implementation

In addition to the opportunities created by recent legislative proposals, the ongoing implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill also presents an opportunity to ensure that sustainability and climate-related goals are achieved.

While the farm bill’s provisions are by no means a be-all-end-all solution to addressing climate change, there are several that take important steps forward on mitigation and adaptation:

  • Increases payments for soil health beneficial practices, including cover crops, resource conserving crop rotations, and advanced grazing within the Conservation Stewardship Program.
  • Includes a pilot program on soil carbon demonstration projects within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s Conservation Innovation Grant.
  • Includes of ranking criteria related to weather variability and soil health within key conservation programs.
  • Addresses barriers between cover crop adoption and crop insurance.
  • Closes loopholes within the Sodsaver program to provide additional protection for native sod.
  • Adds new emphasis on soil health within the Organic Research and Extension Initiative and increases funding.

NSAC is committed to continuing to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on implementation of these important provisions, as well as with our champions in Congress. These provisions provide important tools and incentives to support farmers and ranchers in their efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and can be an important piece of overall efforts to ensure agriculture plays a key role in overall efforts.

Next Steps

In our recent January convening, NSAC’s member organizations identified climate change and agriculture as a critical emerging priority for the Coalition in the year ahead. We look forward to working with our 120+ member organizations across the country on a comprehensive scoping and policy development process that will better guide our climate change-related work moving forward. We will also continue to track and weigh in on legislative proposals as they move forward throughout the year. With the 2018 Farm Bill implementation finally underway, NSAC will also provide detailed feedback and analysis on climate-change mitigation and adaptation priorities – including but not limited to the development and preservation of healthy soils.


Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment


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