Vilsack comments on energy, climate legislation

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Joe Glauber, U.S.D.A.'s chief economist, recently released results of his full economic analysis showing agriculture will benefit from energy and climate legislation if it includes a robust carbon-offsets program and other helpful provisions, said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The costs of such legislation will be modest while returns from offsets will increase over time and result in positive net income for agriculture, he added.

"In addition to analyzing the impacts using our own model, U.S.D.A. has also reported on the output of the F.A.S.O.M. model — a model developed by researchers at Texas A & M University that the Environmental Protection Agency has used as part of its efforts to study the impacts of climate legislation," he added. "Earlier this month, Dr. Glauber discussed results from the F.A.S.O.M. model in testimony he gave before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research."

F.A.S.O.M. is the acronym for Forest and Agricultural Sector Optimization Model.

Mr. Vilsack said he is aware the results of the F.A.S.O.M. model have caused considerable concern within the farm and ranch community as a result of the model's projections on afforestation over the next several decades. "If landowners plant trees to the extent the model suggests, this would be disruptive to agriculture in some regions of the country," he added. Based on conversations with Dr. Glauber and my staff, I don't believe the results related to afforestation forecast by the F.A.S.O.M. model are necessarily an accurate depiction of the impacts of climate legislation."

The model could be updated to better reflect current legislative proposals, Mr. Vilsack said. "The F.A.S.O.M. model as it is currently configured makes assumptions that reduce farmer income from offsets generated by conservation tillage, methane reductions and other offset activities," he added. "The model also makes other assumptions that could lead to an overestimate of afforestation. This is especially true given that the model attempts to forecast land use impact over long-time horizons."

As other recent analyses have shown, there are opportunities to expand greenhouse gas offsets and biomass energy production without removing significant amounts of land from production, Mr. Vilsack said. "As Dr. Glauber stated during his hearing on Dec. 3, careful design of the offsets program will be important in order to avoid unintended consequences," he added.

Mr. Vilsack said he strongly believes energy and climate legislation should be structured to help farmers profit from new income opportunities and that an outcome that damages agriculture is not anyone's intent or interest. "The House of Representatives worked diligently to ensure a proper role for agriculture in its recently passed climate legislation," he added. "I am fully confident that the Senate will work to do the same."

U.S.D.A. and E.P.A. are continually assessing and updating the assumptions that go into their models, Mr. Vilsack said. "I have directed Dr. Glauber to work together with E.P.A. to undertake a review of the assumptions in the F.A.S.O.M. model, to update the model, and to develop options on how best to avoid unintended consequences for agriculture that might result from climate change legislation," he added.

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