Senate passes Stabenow climate bill to make carbon markets more accessible to farmers

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Senate voted 92-8 Thursday to approve what Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said was the first bipartisan climate bill to pass the chamber. 

Stabenow's measure, the Growing Climate Solutions Act, aims to make it easier for farmers, ranchers and private owners of forest land to access carbon markets, so that they may get credit for carbon offsetting practices they adopt in agriculture or forestry.

"Bottom line, it gives them the opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to design a carbon market that works for them. Not Wall Street," said Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The legislation would create a certification program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help connect farmers and foresters with outside experts, technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers that have expertise in agriculture and forestry, according to a bill summary. That expertise and integrity is lacking in the current system, Stabenow said.

The USDA would also set up a “one stop shop” website with information and resources for producers and foresters who want to participate in carbon markets.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

"Farmers and foresters are already leading the way on the climate crisis ... through their many conservation efforts," Stabenow said on the Senate floor before the vote. 

"They work to reduce their impact every day to conservation practices that cut down on emissions and store carbon in their soil and trees."

She cited projections from the National Academies that say scaling up "climate-smart" agriculture and forestry practices in the country could offset the annual emissions of nearly 110 million cars. 

"Now, I come from the car state," Stabenow added with a smile. "I still want you to buy an automobile. But this is very significant. The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a key piece of the enormous potential that land-based solutions have to help solve this crisis."

The bill was also led by Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican and tree farmer, who said that farmers in the U.S. already have lower CO2 emissions than agriculture in other parts of the world.

"This is going to be able to showcase their good stewardship and reward them with something very simple," Braun told reporters after the vote.

"These are voluntary markets that are out there, which tells you that people are already willing to put their money where their mouth has been to try to reverse what's happening to the environment, our atmosphere and climate in general."

Stabenow said more than 175 national farm organizations, food and agriculture companies and environmental advocacy groups endorsed the bill.

"Michigan agriculture will benefit from this measure, and we are hopeful it will be taken up and approved by the U.S. House as soon as possible,” Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, said in a statement. 

mburke@detroitnews.com