We are all seeing the impacts to farming and ranching operations from extreme weather events, such as reduced mountain snowpack, droughts, flooding, wildfires, invasive species, and even the smoke from the wildfires affecting the flavor of wine grapes.
If the climate continues to warm, future farms will be severely affected by the loss of mountain snow (70 percent by 2100 for modest efforts to slow warming).
But many farmers have understandably resisted legislation to mitigate our changing climate because their operations rely heavily on fossil fuel and, for some farms, generate substantial methane.
Greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture are only 1 percent of total U. S. emissions. The total emissions need to be curtailed.
There is a path forward that does not penalize the agricultural community.
To accelerate the transition from fossil fuel onto renewable energy and save that mountain snowpack, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 7173, S. 3191), introduced in the last Congress with bipartisan sponsorship, will get the U.S. on the road to substantial carbon emissions reductions without hurting agriculture. It will achieve a 90 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without burdening farmers with the costs and regulations they fear and loathe.
A steadily increasing fee on fossil carbon would drive down carbon emissions in most of the economy, but the fee on the fuel used for agriculture would be rebated. In addition, non-fossil fuel methane emissions from farms would be exempt, and the fee would not be applied to carbon dioxide generated from fertilizer production if that carbon dioxide is captured and permanently stored (most fertilizer is produced in a handful of large plants that would have both the financial incentive and the economy of scale to add carbon capture and storage).
Farmers will benefit from the climate change mitigated by the greenhouse gas emissions reduced in the other sectors of the economy.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would return all net revenue to the economy as an equal monthly dividend to every resident (children under 19 get a half share). Most people will spend their dividend, which would stimulate the economy. Moreover, 70 percent of households will receive more from their dividend than the carbon fee increases the costs of their purchases.
Meanwhile, the predictably increasing price on carbon will allow businesses, utilities, and families to make decisions that will reduce their exposure to the higher fossil fuel prices, which will drive down greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions reduction targets every 10 years are not achieved, the carbon price would increase faster, by up to $15 per ton of carbon dioxide per year, increasing both fossil fuel prices and dividends returned to the people.
The other good news: Electric and hydrogen fuel celled tractors and trucks have already been developed, solar and wind power have become cheaper than coal and hence can provide the power needed by those electric vehicles, and carbon-free production of hydrogen will be available soon.
Farmers and ranchers are at risk from our changing climate, but now we have a good tool. Ask Congress to pass the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act this year.