Heinrich Leads Call For Investment In Agriculture As A Climate Solution In Bicameral Letter

WASHINGTON (May 28, 2021) — U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), along with U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), led 30 of their colleagues in a letter urging Senate and House leadership to support an historic, long-term investment in farmers, ranchers, and rural communities as a part of upcoming infrastructure and climate change legislation.

Senator Heinrich and Representative Pingree are the authors of the Agriculture Resilience Act, legislation that empowers farmers with the tools and resources needed to improve soil health, sequester carbon, reduce emissions, enhance their resilience, and tap into new market opportunities.

The lawmakers urged Congressional leadership to use this bicameral bill, as well as the Climate Stewardship Act led by Senator Booker and Representative Spanberger, as a roadmap for the infrastructure package to leverage new and existing programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to achieve net-zero emissions from American agriculture in the coming decades.

“President Biden’s American Jobs Plan seeks to position American agriculture ‘to lead the shift to net-zero emissions while providing new economic opportunities for farmers.’ We agree that now is the moment to be ambitious on this front,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter. “Specifically, we request that this infrastructure and climate package include $200 billion over the next decade for new and existing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation, research, renewable energy, tree planting, and food systems initiatives, in addition to robust funding for rural development programs including investments in USDA rural water, broadband, business, and electric programs.”

The letter continued, “Beyond simply investing in these areas, this package should also specifically target resources to maximize the impact of USDA programs on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Both the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Climate Stewardship Act propose climate-focused policy changes to existing USDA programs as well as new initiatives to meet climate and rural infrastructure needs that are not currently addressed by existing programs…Many of these specific policies were also endorsed in recommendations made last year by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.” 

“American farmers, ranchers, and foresters are ready to lead the shift to net-zero emissions, but they need Congress to provide them with the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to do so,” the lawmakers stated.“Upcoming legislation focused on infrastructure and climate change is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Congress to provide this critical support, which would also improve the quality of the water we drink and the air we breathe, increase farmers’ bottom lines, and make farms and rural communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

The letter is cosigned by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Colo.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawai’i), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Scott Peters (D-Mich.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Read the full text of the letter below or by clicking here.

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McCarthy, and Leader McConnell:

As you work with the Biden administration to develop legislation on infrastructure and climate change, we urge you to support a significant investment in farmers, ranchers, and rural communities as part of the climate solution. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan seeks to position American agriculture “to lead the shift to net-zero emissions while providing new economic opportunities for farmers.” We agree that now is the moment to be ambitious on this front. Bicameral legislation, the Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R. 2803/S. 1337) and the Climate Stewardship Act (H.R. 2534/S. 1072), has already set a roadmap for leveraging new and existing programs at the Department of Agriculture to achieve net-zero emissions from U.S. agriculture in the coming decades. 

Specifically, we request that this infrastructure and climate package include $200 billion over the next decade for new and existing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation, research, renewable energy, tree planting, and food systems initiatives, in addition to robust funding for rural development programs including investments in USDA rural water, broadband, business, and electric programs. This long-term investment will help farmers and ranchers enhance their resilience in the face of climate change, sequester additional carbon in the soil, and reduce emissions from the agriculture sector while providing additional benefits for the environment and rural communities.

Substantially increasing funding for soil health and other regenerative agriculture practices within USDA’s voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is critical for engaging farmers and ranchers as partners in addressing the climate crisis. These existing programs are proven, effective tools to help producers adopt climate-smart practices, but demand has far outstripped available resources for many years. “Boots on the ground” conservation technical assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and third-party providers is also essential for the successful adoption and implementation of these practices, but funding for technical assistance has similarly failed to keep pace with need over the years and should also be substantially increased.

Infrastructure and climate legislation should also include robust investments in agriculture research and extension, with a heightened emphasis on meeting climate change adaptation and mitigation challenges. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan seeks to restore U.S. leadership in research and development with a $180 billion investment in research and development across the federal government, and a substantial portion of this funding should be devoted to agriculture research and extension through the Department of Agriculture. At one time, public agricultural research in the United States was the largest research enterprise in the world. However, as with other sectors, our public investment in agricultural research has failed to keep pace with our global competitors. Restoring American leadership in agricultural innovation is essential for farmers and ranchers to provide a sustainable and reliable food supply while simultaneously reducing emissions and overcoming increasing climate-related production challenges. 

Additionally, this legislation should include substantial funding for renewable energy and food supply chain infrastructure and resilience. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan makes the case for a massive, nationwide shift to clean energy and enhancing the resilience of food systems. Existing USDA programs such as the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) are important tools to support these goals, but they are also oversubscribed and under-resourced at current funding levels. 

Beyond simply investing in these areas, this package should also specifically target resources to maximize the impact of USDA programs on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Both the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Climate Stewardship Act propose climate-focused policy changes to existing USDA programs as well as new initiatives to meet climate and rural infrastructure needs that are not currently addressed by existing programs. For example, states play an important role in helping producers identify strategies to improve soil health, sequester carbon, and adapt to local and regional climate-related challenges. New federal grants for state and Tribal governments to implement soil health initiatives could bolster these efforts. Many of these specific policies were also endorsed in recommendations made last year by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.

American farmers, ranchers, and foresters are ready to lead the shift to net-zero emissions, but they need Congress to provide them with the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to do so. Upcoming legislation focused on infrastructure and climate change is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Congress to provide this critical support, which would also improve the quality of the water we drink and the air we breathe, increase farmers’ bottom lines, and make farms and rural communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. We look forward to continuing to work with you on this important matter.

Sincerely, 

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