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Secretary Vilsack Announces New Steps to Address Climate Change

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in
Feb 21, 2017
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack makes remarks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico on Thursday, December 9, 2010.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack makes remarks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico on Thursday, December 9, 2010.

Earlier today it was my privilege to address those attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing our planet, and the United States is taking significant action to meet this challenge. Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. is advancing policies that address climate change by promoting energy efficiency in our homes, cars and businesses, increasing the domestic production of clean energy – including biofuels – and by investing in renewable energy technology.  The United States is also vigorously engaged in international climate negotiations while continuing to work with Congress on domestic climate legislation.

President Obama believes, as I do, that we can advance clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing our economy.  This is particularly true for America’s rural communities.  Farmers are helping make America more energy independent while at the same time generating new rural income by producing renewable energy.  And, I believe farmers, ranchers and forest owners have the potential to benefit from markets for greenhouse gas reductions that could provide other new economic opportunities.

To capture these opportunities, we need to provide American farmers and landowners with information on how protecting the environment through actions such as carbon sequestration, reduced nitrous oxide emissions from fertilization, and reduced emissions and methane capture for livestock can also bring economic savings.

Today, I announced steps to make farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners even better conservationists.  Through these efforts, USDA will:

Demonstrate opportunities for farmers, ranchers and forest owners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase sequestration while improving their bottom line.

Provide opportunities to leverage private sector demand for greenhouse gas mitigation services.

Evaluate how emerging voluntary and State greenhouse gas markets and USDA conservation programs can work in concert to protect the environment.

Build capacity within the Department to understand voluntary greenhouse gas markets and to explore improved approaches for greenhouse gas accounting systems.

Over the coming months, several agencies of USDA will be rolling out new efforts in order to fulfill this aggressive agenda.

Through the Conservation Innovation Grants Program, our Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will fund $15 million in large-scale demonstration tests of greenhouse gas mitigation practices on private lands.

In a new initiative, our Farm Service Agency will help landowners measure the greenhouse gas benefits of planting trees on environmentally sensitive croplands.

I’ve asked our National Institute on Food and Agriculture to work with our universities and academic cooperators to independently gather and analyze data on the effectiveness of all aspects of our greenhouse gas demonstrations.  Our efforts need to be supported by the best science, which is why today I also announced a Climate Change Science Plan for our Department.  The plan will allow us to evaluate current and potential investments in climate change science activities as we integrate climate change into all that we do.  It stresses our commitment to developing science-based knowledge and tools to help mitigate the impacts of climate change – while also working to prepare for its impact.

USDA is also working with our US Government partners in the Feed the Future initiative which is confronting global hunger by helping build sustainable and profitable agriculture sectors in vulnerable countries through improved agricultural productivity, post-harvest handling, and expanded markets and trade.

While confronting climate change presents enormous challenges, there are also opportunities for forested countries to protect forests and profit from doing so.  Likewise, as USDA works with farmers, ranchers and forest owners in the United States, we recognize the challenges that climate change presents.  But, we also recognize that new markets for reducing emissions, sequestering carbon and producing sustainable bioenergy can provide new sources of revenue for agriculture and forestry.  USDA looks forward to working with our partners domestically and internationally to meet the climate challenge while improving economic conditions.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack watches the Honorable Carlos Pascual, United States Ambassador to Mexico speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico on Thursday, December 9, 2010.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack watches the Honorable Carlos Pascual, United States Ambassador to Mexico speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico on Thursday, December 9, 2010.

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Charlotte Shivvers
Apr 30, 2011

Dear Mr. Vilsack -- I support everything you and Pres. Obama are doing to publicize human-caused climate change, as well as everything you are doing to keep it from happening. Here is the article I wrote for the Knoxville Journal-Express on the urgency of this matter:

For the Knoxville Journal-Express
Another View “Washing Away in Plain Sight” Charlotte Shivvers April 29, 2011

I walked down to our south field a few days ago because we need a new fence there. Along the way I noticed all the change since last fall – new gullies, breaks in terraces, and other bad news.

But when I got down to the fence line I saw the biggest new farm land slide I’d ever seen. Green pasture had just fallen down toward the stream in huge stair steps of alternate green and rich black soil. The water rushed on to its next damage. This wouldn’t have been such a jolt except that we’ve tried so hard for so long to do all we could to keep the soil and water in place. This water had flowed down through brand new water ways – wide strips of grass in the corn field intended to slow the water. This water had washed a trench through a brand new high terrace intended to hold the water back. Granted, these new remedies hadn’t been there long enough to be secure, but my father’s years of soil conservation pioneering seemed washed away, too.

“So what,” you may respond, “this is only bad news on the farm scene, and we’re not farmers.”

Yes, dear reader, but this is the soil that makes your food.

Headlines reverberated in my head as I stood there. I suddenly understood those recent findings that we are losing this precious top soil at 12 times the rate that earth is able to replace it.

So soil protection is urgent, NOW. Right?

Our law-makers don’t seem to know that. Both in Des Moines and Washington D.C., they are cutting the very funds that work to help us save the soil, that encourage water ways and terraces and cover crops. And what have they done to diminish the climate change that causes all this extra rainfall? Not much.

It gets worse. Remember ethanol? It’s the corn-based biofuel intended to help replace petroleum. Ethanol keeps the corn market so good that farmers plow up waterways and Conservation Reserve to have more land to grow corn. 58% of Iowa corn last year went to Ethanol. What it does to our soil is bad enough – but what it does to our deficit! We subsidize it to the tune of 45 cents/gallon – $6 billion last year! Now a recent Iowa State University analysis determined that the subsidy is no longer needed to keep our ethanol industry profitable. If we cut this subsidy we would lessen the deficit, and save more of Iowa’s richest resource, topsoil.

Iraq and Iran were once part of the Fertile Crescent – but lack of soil care turned them to desert.

There’s a wonderful story about the courageous people who started the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service) in the midst of the Great Depression and its land crisis, the Dust Bowl. Congress was reluctant to pass the necessary measure, but the presenter held off a few hours until the skies even in Washington D.C. were blowing black with miss-used soil from the Great Plains. Then, Congress passed the bill!

How could we engineer a flow of mud into Des Moines and Washington D.C. so lawmakers would recognize our need in 2011? Perhaps I don’t need to worry. At the rate my beloved farm is flowing away, it will get to Des Moines and Washington on its own.

CC: Vilsack, Obama, Grassley, Harkin, Boswell, Bransted, McKinley,Van Engelenhoven.