By JORDAN STRICKLER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Green New Deal (GND) has been pushed to the fore of federal Democratic legislation, and it is bringing out reactions from various corners of agriculture.
The legislation, driven by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), is the most sweeping attempt at overhauling the nation’s energy production ever proposed. The reform, which proposes to create millions of jobs by expanding renewable energy and de-carbonizing the economy over the next 10 years, clashes with the Trump administration’s efforts to advance domestic oil, gas and coal production by rolling back environmental protections.
According to a December study by Yale and George Mason University, 69 percent of Americans are “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about climate change. The percentage represents “the highest level since our surveys began in 2008, and an increase of 7 percentage points since our previous survey in March 2018,” the pollsters said.
The name “Green New Deal” references the “New Deal” of the 1930s that President Franklin Roosevelt implemented to aid Americans during the Great Depression by embarking on huge government-led infrastructure projects. Thus far, the GND has 67 House cosponsors and 11 Senate cosponsors.
“Today is the day that we choose to assert ourselves as a global leader in transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and charting that path,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters.
House Resolution 109 (like its Senate counterpart, S.Res. 59) is a nonbinding agreement that outlines several goals for the country. Those include meeting 100 percent of power demand from zero-emission energy sources such as solar and wind within a 10-year window.
Additionally, it calls for new projects to modernize the nation’s transportation infrastructure, cut carbon emissions from the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, make buildings more energy-efficient and increase land preservation. It also states that changes made would result in millions of new jobs.
Agriculture is one of the top industries on the list that would undergo changes. Agriculture, which is responsible for 9 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions according to the U.S. EPA, is included in several aspects of the 14-page House filing.
Specifically, it states the importance of “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector” through supporting family farming, “investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health” and “building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”
“It seems like every week or so, another group releases another proposal or call to ‘Do Something’ about climate change – such as the so-called Green New Deal,” said Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. senior vice president for government affairs. “Unfortunately, many of these proposals are often lacking in specifics, which makes it very hard for us to develop substantive responses.”
He said U.S. beef producers have already made a great deal of progress on environmental issues like climate change, such as producing the same amount of beef with 33 percent fewer cattle, compared to 1977.
He also pointed out beef producers in the United States now have one of the lowest carbon footprints compared to many of the nation’s worldwide counterparts. According to the EPA, beef here currently produces less than 2 percent of all carbon emissions in the United States.
“Despite all the progress we’ve made on the environmental front in recent decades, some policymakers still seem to think targeting U.S. beef producers and consumers will make a huge impact on global emissions,” remarked Woodall.
Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles took to Facebook to voice his displeasure over the GND. “Our farmers are more conservation oriented, sustainable and efficient than EVER before and lead the world on being stewards of our precious soil,” he posted.
“I INVITE those coastal elites (who think we aren’t able to make decisions for ourselves) from California and the East Coast to come visit our Bluegrass State, set foot on our beautiful farms and learn how we are leading the way. Until then, please LEAVE US ALONE.”
Other agriculture groups applaud the proposal. “Farmers Union members understand the need for action on climate change, and they will be active in ensuring farmers have the tools and incentives they need to both adapt to and help mitigate climate change,” says Rob Larew, senior vice president of public policy and communications for the National Farmers Union (NFU).
“American family farmers are primary stakeholders in the battle against climate change, as they’ve been withstanding increasingly devastating natural disasters, including floods, drought, wildfires and hurricanes. The impacts on not only their individual bottom lines, but also on their communities, have already been significant, and they will be exacerbated by more severe disasters.
“NFU stands ready to work with Congress to ensure that federal legislation recognizes what’s at stake for farm families and rural communities, and what potential we have to offer national and global efforts to sequester carbon and curb the worsening effects of climate change.”
Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Assoc., said the GND is in line with what most scientists say is necessary to avoid irreparable harm to the environment.
“That call is long overdue, especially given that our degenerative food system generates 44 to 57 percent of all global greenhouse gases. By bringing together the concerns of youth, food, farmer, environmental and climate activists, with the bread-and-butter concerns of workers and frontline communities, the GND offers nothing less than a contemporary roadmap for survival and regeneration,” he said.