Washington capitol dome

Washington State Capitol

OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate on Jan. 15 passed legislation to pay producers to reduce the greenhouse gases coming from their farms and ranches.

The proposal now goes to the House, as backers try to firm up support from agricultural groups.

The legislation proposes that public money subsidize planting trees, buying lower-emission farm equipment, and tilling and grazing practices that reduce carbon output. The climate-change group Carbon Washington has been pushing the bill since last year's session.

The Washington Farm Bureau remains concerned that the carbon-cutting grants would divert money from other farmland stewardship programs, director of governmental relations Tom Davis said. "We don't think putting another program out there when funding is scarce is a good idea," he said.

Davis also said the Senate bill was too complicated and written in a way that was alien to agriculture. "It needs to be completely rewritten," he said. "We have hopes there will continue to be productive conversations in the House, to the point we can support the bill."

Carbon Washington policy chairman Greg Rock said he expects the House to reword the bill.

A version the House likely take up doesn't refer to needing to reduce the "fossil-fuel energy" in "embedded" in fertilizers, pesticides and pumps.

"This is an opportunity for the Farm Bureau and Carbon Washington and a broad coalition to link arms," Rock said.

The bill assigns the Washington State Conservation Commission and conservation districts the lead role in overseeing the program, with help from Washington State University and the state agriculture department.

Rather than diverting money from other programs, Rock said the state should spend more money on land stewardship.

The bill does not appropriate a certain amount of money. Rock said $3 million to $5 million this year would be a good start to launching the program.

The measure, Senate Bill 5947, passed the Senate on a 32-17 vote, with strong support from majority Democrats.

"This is the bill that helps make agriculture part of the carbon-emissions reduction," said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

Most Republicans voted no. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said farmers in his northwest Washington district would rather have fewer rules and access to water. "The farmers are not asking for free stuff," he said.

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