Policy Update: Bipartisan “Growing Climate Solutions Act” Introduced in Senate
On June 4, 2020, Senators Braun (R-IN), Stabenow (D-MI), Graham (R-SC), and Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the “Growing Climate Solutions Act,” a bipartisan bill to support the entrance of farmers, ranchers, foresters, and landowners into voluntary private domestic carbon markets. The bill would make it easier for landowners to generate and sell carbon credits, with the end goal of fighting climate change and improving farm viability. AFT has endorsed the bill and published a statement of support earlier today, available here.
The bill would create a new USDA program titled the “Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program,” which would allow technical assistance providers and third-party carbon-credit verifiers to obtain federal certification to participate in the market. They would agree to “maintain expertise and adhere to” a set of published standards based on industry protocols, such as which practices are covered and how to verify them for the carbon market. Certification is intended to increase transparency and overall confidence in the newly generated credits, so that both generators and purchasers know that a credit truly represents either avoided greenhouse gas emissions or carbon sequestration.
A covered entity (technical assistance provider or verifier) would self-register for the program, and then a list of these entities would be made available online. A landowner would then work directly with the entities to implement and verify the practices, with the end goal being the purchase of carbon credits from the landowner by industry.
The Act also creates an advisory council tasked with informing the Secretary on issues such as reducing barriers to entry for producers as well as current industry standards for quantification and verification of carbon sequestration and avoided emissions. In addition, the advisory council would help generate an assessment every four years on the program, its impacts, and necessary changes.
Although the bipartisan bill does have a number of Senate sponsors and a broad array of supporting organizations (from Farm Bureau to Farmers Union and from World Wildlife Fund to Microsoft), it is unclear what will happen next. According to Agri-Pulse, while a Senate hearing is under consideration, the legislation may just serve as a marker bill.
Certification of Entities
- The Secretary would publish an official list of greenhouse gas market standards that certified entities would adhere to, and have expertise in. These standards would cover:
- Provision of technical service to farmers and ranchers.
- The process of verifying the climate benefits of various practices.
- Certified entities would cover various practices, including soil carbon sequestration (the specific practices have not yet been defined), emissions reductions, on-farm energy generation, reforestation, energy feedstock production, forest and grassland management including prescribed grazing, and more.
- The standards will include all relevant information regarding quantification, verifiability, and additionality (ensuring that the climate benefit can actually be attributed to the buyer, and would not have otherwise happened) of the credits. The standards would also require certified entities to demonstrate expertise in best management practices for any practices that increase sequestration or decrease emissions.
- Entities would self-register under the program by agreeing to adhere to the standards, and the list of registered entities would be provided to the public via a website. Entities will be periodically audited by the Secretary to ensure compliance.
Establishment of an Advisory Council
- The Secretary will establish a 24+ member advisory council that includes representatives from the following communities: Environmental Protection Agency (1+), the agriculture industry (10+), the relevant scientific research community (4+), forestry industry (3+), private greenhouse gas credit market professionals (2-3), members of relevant nongovernmental organizations (2-3), members of private sector companies or impact investors (2-3), and any other necessary individual.
- The advisory council will advise the Secretary regarding the:
- Inclusion of best practices.
- The current methods used by private markets to quantify and verify emissions reduced or sequestered.
- Means to reduce barriers to entry in the business of providing technical service or verification.
- Means to reduce compliance and verification costs for farmers and ranchers.
- Means for farmers, ranchers, and private landowners to advertise products derived from practices that reduce emissions or sequester carbon.
- Every four years, the Secretary, in consultation with the Advisory Council, will conduct the “Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Credit Marketplaces Verification Regimes” regarding:
- The actors involved with buying, selling, and trading carbon credits.
- Domestic market demand for credits, and number of credits generated and sold.
- The barriers to entry for farmers, ranchers, and covered entities.
- The state of monitoring technologies needed to quantify long-term carbon sequestration in soils and from other emission reduction activities in the agriculture and forestry sectors.
- Means to leverage existing Department of Agriculture programs and other Federal programs that could improve, lower the costs of, and enhance the deployment of monitoring technologies.