WASHINGTON, D.C. — A team of former White House and government officials, including members of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, recently released a 300-page blueprint for how to leverage agencies to fight climate change.
Called the Climate 21 Project, the memo calls on the upcoming administration to make dramatic changes to USDA’s climate policies that could impact farmers.
Climate 21’s authors argue USDA has “enormous capacity to contribute meaningfully” to the administration’s climate policy aspirations.
Farm groups told the Capital Press that Biden has not signed off on the memo. But because the document was co-authored by Biden’s transition team members — including Robert Bonnie, former USDA undersecretary for natural resources and the environment under Obama, and Meryl Harrell, former senior adviser to the undersecretary — farm groups say Biden will likely favor the recommendations, which can serve as a potential policy forecast.
The team suggests setting up a Climate Strike Team on day one comprised of the new Agriculture Secretary and leaders of the Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency and other agencies.
In the first 100 days, the blueprint calls on the administration to make big changes.
The blueprint proposes USDA establish a carbon bank using the Commodity Credit Corporation to financially incentivize carbon sequestration on farm and forest lands.
It also recommends financing what it dubs “climate smart practices” through existing conservation programs — for example, enrolling marginal cropland into contracts to restore grasslands, wetlands and forests.
The team suggests reforming crop insurance policies and rates to incentivize climate-friendly practices. For example, if a farmer increases soil health, crop insurance rates could improve.
The new Agricultural Secretary should, the memo says, be pushed to repair the “damage” caused by the 2018 through 2019 decision to relocate the majority of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Economic Research Service from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri. “Repairing” damage could mean reversing the move or mitigating research impacts in the new location.
The memo also advocates the administration should establish a “Wildfire Commission” co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of the Interior and each a Democratic and Republican governor. This commission should improve watershed health, maintain long-term carbon sequestration on Forest Service lands and “significantly” increase prescribed burning.
The Climate 21 team also suggests creating a market for hazardous fuels to incentivize private landowners to clean up fuels on forest floors. This might include having USDA promote biomass energy as a market for low-value timber and wood residues.
The team also suggests developing a plan to retire coal-fired power plants.
After the first 100 days, proposals include investing millions in “green” and “renewable” energy, making methane digesters for livestock more affordable for farmers, promoting biofuels, hiring more women and minorities at USDA and pushing USDA to work more closely with the EPA.
Farm groups say it’s not yet clear which recommendations Biden will adopt. Congress and the new USDA chief will also influence which policies move forward. But for now, experts say this memo can help farmers forecast what’s in store.