Agriculture chief disputes USDA climate bill study

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Friday took issue with a report his own agency has issued on the impact of the House-passed climate change bill, which concluded there will be a large-scale conversion of cropland to forestland.

The study, authored by USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber, said the bill would help the agriculture sector overall. But it also said if the price of carbon allowances increases to $70 per ton of carbon dioxide by 2050, almost 60 million more acres of land would be converted to forest, 35 million acres of which would come from cropland.

That would be a 14 percent decline in cropland from the current level and take away 24 million acres from pasture -- an almost 9 percent decline.

The analysis was based on the Forest and Agricultural Sector Optimization Model by researchers at Texas A&M University, which EPA has used to study climate legislation.

Glauber's testimony on the study before a House Agriculture subcommittee Dec. 6 had led some farm leaders and Republicans to warn such a shift would lead to much higher food production and consumer food costs. Vilsack echoed those concerns Friday, saying that the scenario would be "disruptive to agriculture in some regions of the country."

But Vilsack added that he took away from his talks with Glauber that the economist does not believe the increased forest forecast is "necessarily an accurate depiction of the impacts of climate legislation."

Vilsack said the model could be updated and noted that Glauber testified that careful design of an offsets program could avoid "unintended consequences."

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