Washington Insider-- Wednesday

New Visibility for Climate Change as Formal Transition Begins

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Trump Looks To Allies For Help Targeting China

Senior Trump administration officials told the Wall Street Journal this week they are looking to bring new trade pressure to bear on China as President Donald Trump prepares to leave office.

One of the ideas under consideration is creating what the WSJ called “an informal alliance of Western nations,” to take joint action against China when it engages in unfair trade practices. The plan was developed after China erected new trade barriers for Australian exports after Australia's Prime Minister called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 earlier this year, WSJ reported.

Under the plan described by administration officials, when China creates trade barriers like those deployed against Australia, other allied nations would purchase the affected goods or provide compensation to the affected partner. Another option would see the group of nations jointly impose tariffs on China in retaliation, WSJ said.

The officials said even if the plan to create the new alliance is successful, it would depend on the incoming Biden administration to implement it.

CFAP 2 Payments Top $10.6 Billion

Payments under USDA's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) now stand at $10.62 billion as of November 22 with 668,067 applications approved so far.

Acreage-based payments comprise the largest share of disbursements at $5.23 billion, followed by livestock ($2.86 billion), sales commodities ($1.47 billion), dairy ($1.02 billion) and eggs/broilers ($30.9 million). Payments for corn ($2.89 billion), cattle ($2.32 billion), sales commodities ($1.4 billion), soybeans ($1.1 billion) and milk ($1 billion), are at $1 billion or more, followed by wheat ($580.6 million), hogs/pigs ($474.3 million) and upland cotton ($241.1 million).

At the state level, Iowa has seen the largest payment total at $994.1 million, with Nebraska at $723.4 million, Minnesota at $691.5 million, Illinois at $672.1 million, California at $669.3 million, Kansas at $553.3 million, Texas at $515.8 million, South Dakota at $482.5 million, Wisconsin at $456.2 million and North Dakota rounding out the top 10 at $393.9 million.

Signup for the program continues through December 11. Payments under CFAP 1 stand at $10.46 billion as USDA looks to close out that effort.

Washington Insider: New Visibility for Climate Change as Formal Transition Begins

Well, there is a beehive of political activity this week as the Trump administration begins its formal cooperation with the Biden transition. Much of the press has reported that the main picks for the next administration are fairly well-known experts.

However, one of the choices has stirred more than a little excitement. That is the “special envoy for climate” to be headed by John Kerry. This pick is being seen as elevating the issue to the highest levels in the White House, Bloomberg says.

The report says that having a so-called climate czar could help coordinate a whole-of-government approach to confronting global warming, which Biden has referred to as an “existential threat.”

Kerry helped broker the landmark Paris climate accord while serving in the Obama administration and has been viewed as a natural fit for the position and as a seasoned politician who enjoys goodwill on Capitol Hill. He said earlier this year that in addition to rejoining the climate agreement the next step is “to lift ambition significantly, on a global basis.” President Donald Trump had quit the accord.

Kerry will be a member of Biden's National Security Council, the first time it's included a spot dedicated to climate change, the transition team said.

Progressives and others have been lobbying the White House to create a special office dedicated to climate change which they say could be created through executive fiat and akin to a National Security Council on climate. However, some of them said naming Kerry isn't sufficient.

“Having held cautious optimism that President-elect Joe Biden could be persuaded to take a bold, determined approach to tacking the climate crisis from day one, we are suddenly alarmed by his choice of John Kerry for climate czar,” Food & Water Action Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement. “Kerry has been a long-time apologist for fossil fuel fracking and a reliable promoter of false climate solutions like market-based carbon-trading schemes.”

Sarah Hunt, who backs conservative energy and climate solutions as CEO of the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy, said the announcement signals that Biden will prioritize climate change and energy issues as critical to national security. “Hopefully Kerry will fully integrate energy security—maintaining an affordable, reliable energy supply for the protection of our economy and defense—into the Biden approach to climate security,” Hunt said.

In addition to the usual fights over positions in the new administration, National Public Radio uncovered an “even newer” effort. It noted that just over a decade ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation had declared war on legislation to slow down global warming and had had argued that a "cap-and-trade" proposal making its way through Congress would make fuel and fertilizer more expensive and put farmers out of business.

Farmers swarmed Capitol Hill wearing caps with the words "Don't Cap Our Future." And it worked. The legislation died, derailing the boldest plan Congress had crafted to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Now the Farm Bureau might be changing course. This week, it announced that formation of a coalition that plans to push the government to adopt dozens of policy changes that would make it easier for farmers to reduce emissions from ag operations.

"We're going to have a real common sense, science-based discussion about how we protect the climate, and our farmers want to be part of that," said Zippy Duvall, president of the Farm Bureau.

The new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance brings together groups that have often butted heads on environmental policy. "It feels like the conversation has just really shifted in the past 18 months," says Pipa Elias, director of agriculture for The Nature Conservancy. One reason is that many big food companies have promised to help reduce their greenhouse emissions and they're pushing for changes on the farm—and sometimes paying for such changes.

At the press conference launching the new alliance, Barb Glenn, chief executive of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said that "everyone in this unique coalition understands and is witnessing the changing of the climate, and we all want to be involved in impacting it."

The alliance didn't quantify impacts of potential policies on greenhouse emissions. Currently, agriculture is responsible for about 10% of the country's emissions of heat-trapping gases. Some estimates are that a reduction in greenhouse emissions from agriculture combined with an increase in forests could get the country 10% to 20% of the way toward net zero emissions in 2050, NPR says.

It also notes that climate proposals remain controversial but says it sees signs that the incoming administration is interested in a number of similar approaches. For example, Robert Bonnie, who leads the Biden transition team for the US Department of Agriculture recently called on the USDA to set up a so-called Carbon Bank that would pay farmers to fight climate change.

So, we will see. The move to more broadly support climate efforts by producers with food companies in a potentially popular program would seem to have significant potential for success and should be watched closely by producers as it emerges, Washington Insider believes.

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