A government report this week revealed the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide seeping into the earth's atmosphere will increase by nearly 40 percent by 2030 if reduced emissions are not mandated.
U.S. Energy Information Administration projects world energy consumption will grow by 44 percent over the next two decades. And it says the absence of limits on carbon dioxide emissions means much of the increase will come from burning fossil fuels.
The government says the largest increases in energy use will come from developing nations such as China and India.
Legislation designed to mitigate the effects of climate change is winding its way through Congress. Rural advocates acknowledge the move is a step in the right direction, but they say the proposals fail to consider the role of agriculture in fighting climate change.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California: "We have passed what is transformational in how we address the climate change issue."
The climate change bill, shepherded through the House Energy & Commerce Committee late last month by its Democratic Chairman Henry Waxman, includes sweeping legislation that would fundamentally alter the way the U.S. uses energy.
From its inception, the bill has drawn sharp criticism from agricultural groups. They say the bill establishes as much as 2 billion tons in carbon offsets, but doesn't have provisions for farmland or forestry to play a role in those offsets.
Rick Krause, AFBF: "Energy companies, oil refineries, wild life advocates, etc. all receive something in this bill. It seems like the only industry that was not addressed in this bill was agriculture."
Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is promising to advocate for agricultural offsets in the climate bill. According to Vilsack, agriculture emits 7 to 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases but could offset as much as 25 percent of the nation's pollutants via farming practices that prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Vilsack adds USDA is better suited than EPA to monitor those practices since it has more than 2,000 offices and employees in nearly every county in the nation.
The House climate change bill requires factories, refineries and power plants to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and six other greenhouse gases by roughly 80 percent by mid-century. Congress hopes to speed up the nation's energy shift away from fossil fuels by putting a price on carbon dioxide releases. The government would issue pollution allowances, or permits, to businesses that could be traded on the open market. The bill initially would give away 35 percent of the allowances to electric utilities to prevent higher energy costs from being passed on to consumers.
With Congress back in session, farm groups wrote to House leaders Tuesday, asking them to create an agricultural offset program that is unlimited and recognizes farmers and ranchers who have already implemented carbon-capture practices. The rural advocates also want any program with agricultural offsets to be under the thumb of USDA, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Waxman bill would reduce greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by mid-century.