News

 February 26, 2020

Climate Change Legislation would Impact Agriculture, Without Adequate Input from Farmers

 

A number of climate change measures under consideration in the legislature could have significant impact on agriculture and other food businesses. Recently passed by the Senate, An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy (S.2477) is a very complex bill that deserves attention from food system stakeholders as it moves through the legislative process. 

This bill would require lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and set a statewide net-zero emissions limit by the year 2050. To do this it would set progressively lower GHG emission limits every 5 years beginning in 2025, require the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to set sub-limits for specific sectors including agriculture, and would specify a “Market-based compliance mechanism,” such as carbon taxes and perhaps carbon credits, and structural limits on emissions.

The bill would require support for low- and moderate-income communities disproportionately impacted by environmental issues, and protections for economic sectors and individual employers at risk of adverse impacts from compliance mechanisms. The bill would require tracking emission reductions, including carbon sequestration from natural and working lands. 

The Collaborative is pleased to see these actions, as they represent progress toward several recommendations in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, including:

  • Land 4.2.1: Add carbon sequestration by agriculture to the Massachusetts Annual and Three-Year Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories.
  • Land 4.2.3: Research opportunities for Massachusetts farmers and farmland owners to access public and private carbon markets and establish a regional carbon market for farmers.
  • Inputs 2.1.6: Continue to collect data on carbon levels in soil to identify areas that need interventions and to track progress.

The bill would require the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to consult with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Energy Resources in adopting each 5-year total GHG limit and to consult the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development and the Secretary of Transportation in adopting sector based limits. Given that farm and forest land currently covers nearly 73% of the state’s land area and that the success of climate adaptation and mitigation solutions are dependent upon these lands, the Collaborative advocates for also requiring consultation with the Department of Agricultural Resources on both elements.

The bill would also establish a Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission, a new, independent, public watchdog charged with monitoring, evaluating, and making recommendations on the state’s GHG-related actions, but this body would have no representation from the farm or forest sectors. Because 82% of farm and forest land in the Commonwealth is in private ownership, or 60% of all land in the state, the Collaborative advocated for better representation on the Commission. While the final bill did not reflect that request, it would create an advisory council to the Commission and we were successful in supporting the addition of representatives from farming and land use to that body. 

The bill would also create a permanent statutory authorization for the “MOR-EV” program. This program provides incentives for people who purchase zero emissions vehicles, and it expired in 2019. The Collaborative has provided testimony recommending that such incentives be expanded to include tractors and other agricultural vehicles. In tandem with most farms’ physical capacity to generate solar power to charge these vehicles, it may significantly reduce GHG emissions from agriculture.

For more information and details on this bill contact Jeff Cole, Agricultural Network Coordinator.

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