Congressional Democrats unveil Green New Deal

Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, speaks during a press conference to announce the “Green New Deal” held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 7. To the left is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and to the right are Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore.

The New Green Deal introduced last week by Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate does not propose banning cow flatulence, but it does strike at something that powers farm production — diesel fuel.

The 14-page resolution calls for agriculture to be “greenhouse gas free” as much as “technologically feasible” in a decade.

Biodiesel could sharply reduce emissions, especially if it’s manufactured with renewable energy, but it’s far from being ready to supplant all diesel, said Don Scott, director of sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board, a trade association for biofuels.

“We use a lot of diesel fuel,” he said. “It would be extreme to say we’re going to replace all diesel with biodiesel.”

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., outlines a “10-year national mobilization” to make the U.S. entirely powered by zero-emission energy sources.

The resolution is co-sponsored by 67 House Democrats and 11 Senate Democrats, including Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a possible presidential candidate, endorses the resolution, according to a spokeswoman.

A fact sheet provided to National Public Radio by Ocasio-Cortez’s office acknowledged that there would still be greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years because “we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast. ...”

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said it was unreasonable to link cows to climate change. “If they believe it’s manmade, it can’t be livestock,” said Bullard, whose organization represents cattle and sheep producers. “It’s just beyond absurd.”

Though making no mention of cows, the resolution is a general statement on reordering the U.S. economy, including agriculture.

The government would be “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the U.S. to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible,” according to the resolution.

“That would be a huge paradigm shift in every segment of our industry,” Bullard said. “I don’t know how you would accomplish that in a 10-year period of time. I don’t see this as a realistic goal.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that petroleum will still provide a majority of the energy used in agriculture in 2050, even with an increase in renewable energy.

Diesel currently provides two-thirds of the energy used to power farm equipment, according to a study by the Diesel Technology Forum, an association of diesel suppliers and equipment manufacturers. There is no cost-effective substitute to power heavy equipment at slow speeds in remote places, according to the study.

Diesel-powered trucks, trains and ships move 90 percent of the nation’s freight, according to the study.

The New Green Deal resolution didn’t propose anything specific beyond supporting family farmers, protecting the soil and “building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference the resolution wasn’t a bill, but presented a large vision to transition the U.S. into the future and not be “dragged behind by our past.”

“So when people say, ‘What about this?’ Or, ‘What about that?’ The answer isn’t, ‘This is why it’s not in here.’ The answer is, ‘That is part of the solution, too.’ So I hope you all see that, too. I hope you all see the hope and the scale,” she said.

The National Farmers Union issued a statement “applauding” congressional attention to climate change.

“Farmers Union members understand the need for action on climate change, and they will be active in ensuring farmers have the tools and incentives they need to both adapt to and help mitigate climate change, stated Rob Larew, senior vice president of public policy and communications.

Merkley and Wyden were at the forefront in announcing the New Green Deal. Besides Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, the Oregon senators were the only ones to speak at the news conference at the Capitol.

Merkley said the vision presented in the New Green Deal resolution would combat income inequality and “climate chaos.”

“We know the damage being done to agriculture, to our farmers in America. We know the damage being done to our forests and our forest timber communities. We know the damage being done to our fisheries,” he said.

Wearing a white baseball cap with “Oregon” printed on it , Wyden said he will use his position as the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee to push the New Green Deal agenda.

“It’s my intention to work with all these good people to throw the dirty-energy tax relics of yesteryear into the garbage can and work to put clean energy front and center for a healthier future for Americans from sea to shining sea,” he said.

Efforts to obtain further comment from Wyden and Merkley on how the New Green Deal could affect cattle ranchers were unsuccessful.

Bullard wryly observed that one animal might benefit if agriculture must replace diesel’s horsepower.

“It might pick up the horse market,” he said.

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