Biden Administration’s Actions to ‘Tackle Climate Crisis’ Involve Agriculture Sector

Arent Fox

Arent Fox

Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad presents the agriculture sector with opportunities to have a voice in how the Administration meets its targets to reduce and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

On January 27, 2021, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (Climate Crisis EO), which, in part, looks to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for their input and increased efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The President calls upon Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack to build a mechanism for the agriculture sector to provide input on how best to use Agriculture programs, funding and financing capacities, and other authorities, and how to encourage the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices which reduce carbon emissions.

The Climate Crisis EO directs key agencies (Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and CEQ) to submit a report recommending steps the United States should take to conserve at least 30% of lands and waters by 2030, with expected targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions announced by Earth Day (April 22, 2021), according to National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy during the White House press briefing. Highlighting the potential role for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, the Climate Crisis Executive Order provides an opportunity for the industry to actively participate in the political process in two ways:

  1. As part of the Secretary of Agriculture’s stakeholder process; and
  2. As part of a Civilian Climate Corp Initiative, which has a goal to mobilize conservation and resilience, including increasing carbon sequestration in the agriculture sector, and creating jobs.

Specifically addressed in the Climate Crisis EO, and consistently by President Biden as a tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is the use of climate-smart agricultural practices, aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The working groups established by the Climate Crisis EO will provide the agriculture sector with a real opportunity to impact how the Administration approaches its climate change policy solutions.

USDA acknowledged in its request for comments that the “feedback requested through this Executive Order is far-reaching; it encompasses the best use of USDA programs, funding and financing capabilities, authorities, and encouragement of voluntary conservation adoption.” With this acknowledgment, USDA asked specific questions with respect to:

  1. Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry
  2. Biofuels, Wood and Other Bioproducts, and Renewable Energy
  3. Catastrophic Wildfires
  4. Environmental Justice and Disadvantaged Communities

Next Steps “at Home”

  • The Secretary of Agriculture requested comments on the Climate Crisis EO to ensure that “relevant information” is considered, on March 16, 2021, with a comment deadline set for April 29, 2021. Consistent with the Climate Crisis EO, USDA is seeking comments from Tribes, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups, firefighters, and other stakeholders. 
  • USDA will compile and analyze submitted comments to prepare a report with recommended steps the United States should take to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30% of lands and waters by 2030.

Not to be forgotten, the Climate Crisis EO promised to tackle the climate crisis “at home and abroad” and climate issues are a “top priority” for the new United States Trade Representative, Katherine Tai. In testimony and responses to questions posed by the Senate Finance Committee, Ambassador Tai highlighted that protecting and advancing agriculture through international cooperation were priorities. USTR also pledged, without specifics, “to pursue a trade agenda that supports the Biden Administrations’ comprehensive vision,” including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and net-zero global emissions by 2050 by encouraging the development, production, and use of climate-related technology.

Next Steps Abroad

  • We expect that stakeholders will be provided an opportunity to discuss and comment on the Environmental Goods Agreement, which would eliminate tariffs on green technologies, and will assess whether the Agreement fits into the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better agenda and environmental goals.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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