Ag Policy Blog

USDA's Role Addressing Climate Change Under Biden

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Using crop insurance incentives to plant cover crops or promote other climate-smart practices is one of several strategies that a Biden administration could implement at USDA as part of a government-wide plan to address climate change. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

Agriculture has practically come back around full circle to the conversation about climate change in 2008, the last time a Democrat was getting ready to start a new administration.

After some initial fits and starts, a group of Washington staffers in 2008 were working on a blueprint for incoming President-elect Barack Obama that would offer incentives for farmers to sequester carbon in the soil. It sounded like a grand idea at the time, but by the end of 2010, the fights over climate policy were so harsh it became almost taboo to talk about climate change before an audience of farmers for most of the last decade.

Now, as President-elect Joe Biden starts formulating his climate plans, the Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Biden transition team "is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government, from the departments of Agriculture to Treasury to State."

The plan is focused on using executive authority to cut greenhouse-gas emissions even if Congress is incapable of taking action.

The Washington Post piece cites some of the recommendations that could be advanced, including "establish a 'carbon bank' under USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation that could pay farmers and forest owners to store carbon in their soils and lands."

Part of the strategy that will be rolled out on climate comes from a 300-page report called Climate 21 Project, which the Post highlights is a "300-page blueprint laying out a holistic approach to climate." The Climate 21 Project details what can be achieved at several different departments, including USDA. The report on USDA notes while USDA "has not historically been at the center of the public conversation on federal climate policy, the department has enormous and underappreciated discretionary financial resources and agency expertise."

The Climate 21 report details some key program recommendations for USDA:

Issue a Secretarial Order on Climate Change and Rural Development that would make climate change a top priority for agriculture, forestry, technology, rural economies and program actions.

Establish a carbon bank with CCC funds "to finance large-scale investments in climate smart land management practices" and us the farm bill, especially its conservation programs. The Biden campaign highlighted using the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in a similar capacity as well.

Incentivize climate smart agriculture and rural investment using crop insurance, Rural Development grants and loans, and USDA procurement.

Decarbonize rural energy and promote green energy and smart grids. Again, using Rural Development programs for utilities, as well as increase methane digesters for livestock and use biofuels and wood energy.

The Washington Post piece states the Climate 21 Project "was delivered recently to Biden's transition team." That wasn't too difficult for the USDA portion because Robert Bonnie, the USDA team lead, was also one of the lead authors for the USDA piece of the Climate 21 Project. Bonnie advised former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on climate issues before Vilsack elevated him to undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment during Obama's second term in office. Another co-author for the USDA section, Meryl Harrell, is also part of the USDA transition team.

Washington Post: How Biden aims to amp up the government's fight against climate change…

Climate 21 Project…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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11/12/2020 | 8:56 AM CST
About time for ag to get onboard. Seems like an obvious Win -Win to me,