WASHINGTON Two Republican senators are pressing the administration ahead of an Agriculture Committee hearing next week for a detailed analysis of the impact of climate change legislation on U.S. farmers and ranchers.
Some farm groups say a law aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will increase farm costs substantially. The Environmental Protection Agency says the average cost per household will be comparatively small.
"It is important the (Agriculture) Committee and members of the Senate understand the costs that agricultural producers, consumers and others will ultimately bear as a result of this legislation," said Georgia Sen Saxby Chambliss in a letter to USDA that asked for study of several points.
Chambliss also asked EPA to make public the assumptions and calculations behind its assessments.
Nebraska Sen Mike Johanns, agriculture secretary during the Bush administration, said he wanted to see the materials that allow USDA officials to say there may be higher energy prices in rural America due to climate legislation but there will be chances to make money from carbon sequestration.
"I trust you or your representative will provide more specific written information prior to next week's hearing," wrote Johanns to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack is set to appear before the Senate Agriculture Committee next week along with Lisa Jackson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At a Senate Environment Committee meeting on July 7, Vilsack said USDA was completing an economic analysis of climate legislation.
USDA press secretary Caleb Weaver said on Wednesday that USDA is working on the analysis and planned to announce the results soon.
The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, a think tank at the University of Missouri, said this week that operating costs for grain and soybean farms in Missouri could rise by as much as 10.4 percent if the climate bill boosted the cost of motor fuel, natural gas and electricity.
FAPRI said its study did not look at possible changes in cropping practices, biofuel output or the value of carbon credits that landowners might sell.
On Monday, the Environmental Working Group said the Senate should tighten the rules for a trading in carbon offsets, which would be allowed under the House-passed climate bill. Proponents say factories cold offset their greenhouse gases by paying farmers for activities that lock carbon into soil and plants.
"The bill provides no guarantee that key conservation practices that are generating credits for polluters will actually stay in place over time," said EWG.
The House bill would make practices dating from 2001 eligible for carbon credits.
"This could allow the equivalent of over 67 of the dirtiest coal-fired plants to avoid any controls on greenhouse gas emissions while missing the opportunity to encourage farmers to do more to protect the climate," said EWG.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio)