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USDA and Partners Complete First-of-Its-Kind Sale of Carbon Credits from Working Ranch Grasslands

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today said a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant has helped initiate a partnership that is improving the environment, creating a market for carbon credits generated on working grasslands. Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, recently purchased almost 40,000 carbon dioxide reduction tons generated on working ranch grasslands in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota.

"This announcement is the first-of-its-kind. The amount of carbon dioxide removed from our atmosphere by Chevrolet's purchase of carbon credits equals the amount that would be reduced by taking more than 5,000 cars off the road," Secretary Vilsack said. "This public-private partnership demonstrates how much can be achieved with a modest federal investment and a strong commitment to cut carbon pollution."

Robert Bonnie, USDA's under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, announced the purchase and USDA's involvement in the project at an event today at USDA headquarters. He was joined by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Greg Martin, executive director for global public policy, General Motors; Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust and Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer of Ducks Unlimited.

Chevrolet's first purchase of third-party verified carbon credits generated on working ranch grasslands was undertaken voluntarily as part of its commitment to reduce eight million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted. This is comparable to the annual carbon reduction benefit of a mature forest the size of Yellowstone National Park.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $161,000 through a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to Ducks Unlimited in 2011 to develop the necessary methodology to quantify the carbon stored in the soil by avoiding grassland conversions, resulting in the generation of carbon credits.

This is how the credit system works:

  • Landowners voluntarily place lands under a perpetual easement but retain rights to work the land, such as raising livestock and growing hay.
  • The carbon storage benefits of this avoided conversion of grasslands are quantified, verified, and formally registered resulting in carbon credits.
  • The carbon credits are made available to entities interested in purchasing carbon offsets.

The landowners receive compensation for the carbon credits generated on their lands. "Ranchers benefit from new revenue streams, while thriving grasslands provide nesting habitat for wildlife, are more resilient to extreme weather, and help mitigate the impact of climate change," said Vilsack.

Besides the landowners, USDA, and Ducks Unlimited, other key partners that helped make this project a success include The Climate Trust, American Carbon Registry, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund and Terra Global Capital.

USDA's CIGs support the development of new technologies and approaches to agricultural conservation on private lands. This project was one of nine greenhouse gas mitigation and carbon market projects funded by NRCS 2011. More information on these innovative projects can be found on the webpage of Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, a strategic partner of USDA.

Public-private partnerships to enhance U.S. carbon sinks such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastal areas, are a key part of President Obama's efforts to prepare communities for the impacts of climate change and enhance the nation's climate resilience. In October, as called for in the President's Climate Action Plan, the Administration announced a Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda that represents a first of its kind, comprehensive commitment across the Federal Government to support resilience of our natural resources. It identifies a suite of actions (including efforts like the USDA-Chevy agreement) the Federal Government will take to enhance the resilience of America's natural resources to the impacts of climate change and promote their ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

This announcement is one of many USDA efforts to help America's farmers, ranchers and forest owners adapt to new challenges caused by a changing climate – ranging from more intense weather events, to increased risk of wildfire, to a greater prevalence of invasive species. While assessments on the future of agriculture and forestry show that climate change holds these and other challenges in the years ahead, American producers are longtime leaders in innovation, risk management and adaptation. USDA has supported these efforts for more than a century. Now USDA is developing new tools to help rural America create climate solutions and play a role in President Obama's comprehensive effort to reduce carbon pollution. More information on USDA's work is available at


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