WASHINGTON, D.C. — A team of former White House and government
officials, including members of President-elect Joe Biden’s
transition team, recently released a 300-page blueprint for how
to leverage agencies to fight climate change.
Called the Climate 21 Project, the memo calls on the upcoming
administration to make dramatic changes to USDA’s climate
policies that could impact farmers.
Climate 21’s authors argue USDA has “enormous capacity to
contribute meaningfully” to the administration’s climate policy
Farm groups told the Capital Press that Biden has not signed off
on the memo. But because the document was co-authored by Biden’s
transition team members — including Robert Bonnie, former USDA
undersecretary for natural resources and the environment under
Obama, and Meryl Harrell, former senior adviser to the
undersecretary — farm groups say Biden will likely favor the
recommendations, which can serve as a potential policy forecast.
The team suggests setting up a Climate Strike Team on day one
comprised of the new Agriculture Secretary and leaders of the
Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm
Services Agency and other agencies.
In the first 100 days, the blueprint calls on the administration
to make big changes.
The blueprint proposes USDA establish a carbon bank using the
Commodity Credit Corporation to financially incentivize carbon
sequestration on farm and forest lands.
It also recommends financing what it dubs “climate smart
practices” through existing conservation programs — for example,
enrolling marginal cropland into contracts to restore
grasslands, wetlands and forests.
The team suggests reforming crop insurance policies and rates to
incentivize climate-friendly practices. For example, if a farmer
increases soil health, crop insurance rates could improve.
The new Agricultural Secretary should, the memo says, be pushed
to repair the “damage” caused by the 2018 through 2019 decision
to relocate the majority of the National Institute of Food and
Agriculture and Economic Research Service from Washington, D.C.,
to Kansas City, Missouri. “Repairing” damage could mean
reversing the move or mitigating research impacts in the new
The memo also advocates the administration should establish a
“Wildfire Commission” co-chaired by the Secretary of
Agriculture, Secretary of the Interior and each a Democratic and
Republican governor. This commission should improve watershed
health, maintain long-term carbon sequestration on Forest
Service lands and “significantly” increase prescribed burning.
The Climate 21 team also suggests creating a market for
hazardous fuels to incentivize private landowners to clean up
fuels on forest floors. This might include having USDA promote
biomass energy as a market for low-value timber and wood
The team also suggests developing a plan to retire coal-fired
After the first 100 days, proposals include investing millions
in “green” and “renewable” energy, making methane digesters for
livestock more affordable for farmers, promoting biofuels,
hiring more women and minorities at USDA and pushing USDA to
work more closely with the EPA.
Farm groups say it’s not yet clear which recommendations Biden
will adopt. Congress and the new USDA chief will also influence
which policies move forward. But for now, experts say this memo
can help farmers forecast what’s in store.
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