OMAHA (DTN) -- President Joe Biden on Earth Day traveled to Washington State to sign an executive order to protect old-growth forests that could lead to more scrutiny of agricultural imports from certain countries.
While much of the executive order focuses on language to protect U.S. forests, the order signed by the president on Friday also includes several provisions for the federal government to examine agricultural commodity imports from countries allowing or turning a blind eye to large amounts of deforestation.
To address global deforestation, the president's order directs the U.S. to "reduce or eliminate" the purchase of agricultural commodities grown on deforested lands that were done either illegally or in the recent past. Within a year, USDA, along with the Secretary of State, Treasury, Commerce, the U.S. Trade Representative, and Homeland Security will submit a report on possible legislation regarding the "feasibility of limiting or removing specific commodities grown on land deforested either illegally or after Dec. 31, 2020, from agricultural supply chains."
Added to that, the federal departments will provide an analysis with private industries including "major agricultural commodity buyers, traders, financial institutions," and others to "voluntarily reduce or eliminate the purchase of such commodities and incentivize sourcing of sustainably produced agricultural commodities."
POSSIBLE IMPACT ON PALM OIL, BEEF
This could affect imports of commodities such as palm oil from countries in Asia that have aggressively converted rain forests to palm plantations. It also could apply to products such as beef from Brazil -- potentially aligning U.S. cattle groups opposed to importing more Brazilian beef with international environmental groups calling for companies to stop accepting products from newly deforested areas in the Amazon.
The order also calls on the federal government to engage with other countries that both export and import agricultural commodities to "advance common interests in addressing commodity-driven deforestation."
Just this past week, the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) issued a report that carbon emissions from Brazilian-based JBS, the world's largest meatpacking company, had grown more than 51% in the past five years. The study noted JBS had higher carbon emission than the country of Italy. IATP and other groups have been calling for companies to divest in JBS, as well as demanding the Brazilian government stop backing the company financially. IATP and others specifically pointed to JBS being "one of the biggest drivers of Amazon deforestation." (https://www.iatp.org/…)
Meanwhile, as DTN had reported, groups such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have called on USDA to suspend imports of fresh beef from Brazil, largely because of a 131% spike in imports. NCBA's concerns, however, revolved around problems in Brazil reporting cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a timely manner. (https://www.dtnpf.com/…)
SURVEYS OF OLDEST TREES
The White House executive order also stated USDA and the Bureau of Land Management will be expected to conduct surveys of the nation's oldest trees on federal lands. The agencies would then be expected to develop new strategies to protect those forests, especially from wildfires.
The executive order noted the forests provide recreation in a range of ways "that revitalizes our souls and connects us to history and nature." Forests also absorb more than 10% of annual economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions. But actions must be taken to protect these forests, the White House stated.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes funds to conserve mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands, as well as reduce the risks of wildfires on forests.
Under the infrastructure bill, Biden said the U.S. will plant 1.2 billion trees across the country "to begin the vital work of reforesting America." That will require plans by 2030 to effectively develop a reforest strategy nationally.
Biden also talked about USDA renewable energy programs when championing solar and wind power investments in rural America.
"For example, we have a $1 billion program that no one knows about except the Department of Agriculture -- the grants and loans for farmers and rural co-ops to deploy solar and storage and powerlines to carry clean energy across the country," Biden said.
The president noted the U.S. now produces enough clean energy capacity to power 56 million homes.
The full White House executive order can be viewed here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/…
USDA ROLLS OUT FUNDS
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced Friday that USDA is investing nearly $800 million in climate-smart infrastructure in 40 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. USDA stated the investments would strengthen the health and livelihoods of people across rural America. They include funding for 165 projects to expand access to safe water and/or clean energy for people living in disadvantaged communities.
The announcement was tied to the Biden-Harris Administration's Building a Better America Rural Infrastructure Tour, during which administration officials are traveling to rural communities to talk about the impact of the infrastructure law and investments.
USDA noted the announcement also furthers the President's Justice40 Initiative, which commits to delivering at least 40% of the benefits from federal climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities.
"People in rural America are experiencing the impacts of climate change in many ways. This includes more severe droughts, more frequent wildfires, and more destructive and life-threatening storms," Vilsack said.
"When we invest in infrastructure in rural communities, we are investing in our planet, and we're also investing in the peace of mind families will have when kids are drinking clean and safe tap water in their homes. USDA is proud to celebrate Earth Day and the many ways we are addressing climate change and investing in locally-driven solutions to bring safe water and renewable energy to people in rural areas everywhere," he said.
INVESTING IN RENEWABLE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE
USDA is investing $787 million in renewable energy infrastructure in 36 states to help agricultural producers, rural small business owners and residents to lower energy costs and make energy-efficiency improvements. The Department is making the investments under the Electric Loan Program and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
Through REAP, the Department is helping 157 rural businesses and agricultural producers get access to clean energy, while reducing their carbon footprint to make their business operations more cost-effective.
For example, in South Carolina, Limelight Solar I LLC will use a $2.1 million REAP loan to purchase and install a 2.5-megawatt solar system.
The system is expected to produce 3.9 million kilowatt hours per year, which is enough electricity to power 362 homes in the city of Spartanburg.
The Electric Program funding includes nearly $67 million for smart grid technologies that improve system operations and monitor grid security.
For example, in Pennsylvania, REA Energy Cooperative Inc. will use a $16 million Electric Program loan to connect 635 customers and build and improve 186 miles of power lines. This loan includes $6.5 million in smart grid technologies, including 35 miles of overhead fiber.
HELP FOR AREAS HIT BY SEVERE WEATHER
USDA also is investing $12 million to help rural communities hit by severe weather. The funds will benefit people living in 17 states, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. The funds will help communities build back better by mitigating health risks and increasing access to safe, reliable drinking water and sanitary waste disposal services. Funds also will purchase emergency response equipment to help communities be better prepared and more resilient in the face of disaster.
The full list of projects can be found at https://www.rd.usda.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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