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Constructing a new home is no simple task. Negotiating contractors, laborers, electricians, plumbers, landscapers, and designers is a massive effort in coordination. Working in concert makes attention to detail critical, as one missed opportunity could mean problems with your house in the future. Every single person plays a role in ensuring the home is built on a solid foundation. But just as you can’t build a house on sand, the American Clean Energy and Security Act is missing a sound foundation. And the current draft, known as the Waxman-Markey climate bill, overlooks crucial scientific evidence. No one can deny that crafting the climate change bill requires the collaborative efforts of countless interests. And just about everyone wants a piece of this legislation. With so many hands in the pot, I’m pleased to find that the bill allows farmers who commit to regenerative techniques to receive offset credits. While I must commend the American Clean Energy and Security Act for rewarding cover cropping and altered tillage, it is dangerous to hand out carbon emission credits for loosely defined and unverified practices. Here is why:
The Problem With Practice-Based Credits
First, basing offset rewards on a limited set of farming methods risks wasting taxpayer money on practices that have no value. The most current draft of the bill awards credits based on a list of eligible practices, which includes some commonly used organic methods. But rewarding practices is only a proxy for rewarding actual sequestration. Scientific research, including work here at Rodale Institute, indicates that specific methods are largely effective at sequestering carbon. Yet some eligible practices may encourage farmers to use techniques that have not been adequately proven to sequester carbon.
The best way to tell if a farmer’s fields are sequestering carbon is to measure annual changes in soil carbon. The current legislation does not necessitate that practice-based credits demonstrate the effectiveness of the eligible methods used. In some cases, farmer’s efforts in sequestering carbon could be undervalued, when their techniques actually sequester more carbon. In other cases, we could be awarding credits and paying for nothing. Practice based credits cannot assure actual sequestration, threatening the credibility and effectiveness of the carbon market.
Attention All Tree-hugging Readers! It’s Time to Get Conservative With Our Tax Dollars!
As hardworking taxpayers and conscientious citizens of our planet, we should only pay for what we get. In order for ACES to effectively decrease carbon emissions, the legislation must reward those who can verifiably demonstrate carbon sequestration. To do so, let’s ask our Senators to replace practice-based credits with performance-based credits after five years. In the meantime, the legislation must fund research to develop soil carbon measurement systems that are efficiently operable over large distances.
By paying for verifiable sequestration based on measured quantities of soil carbon, the offset system will not only be transparent in its ability to reduce carbon but it will also create an incentive for innovation, giving farmers the flexibility to utilize their knowledge and the resources of their land to sequester carbon efficiently and effectively. With such legislation in place, our taxes will actually work to offset our personal carbon excesses. This could begin the much needed process of disbanding the illogical and expensive farm subsidy program of today.
Do We Have the Political Will? – Act Now!
Let’s not let this bill go the way of so many laws past, using valuable taxpayer money to fund unverified and in some cases, ineffective practices that may not produce the product we intend: Decreasing carbon dioxide. Call or write to your Senator today! Ask for a real climate change solution. Demand performance-based credits and funding for a mobile carbon auditing system.
Ready to take action? Download an action letter to send to your Senator! (Remember to personalize your letter by signing it and including your full address.)
Don't know where to find your Senator's address? Try the U.S. Senate Directory.
Guest contributor Tim LaSalle is CEO of the Rodale Institute.
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