House chairman: No direct climate pay to farmers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The climate change law being written in Congress is unlikely to pay directly U.S. farmers if they alter their operations to control greenhouse gases, said the House Energy Committee chairman on Friday.

Energy chairman Henry Waxman, the lead sponsor of the climate bill, also told reporters it was dubious if a new land stewardship program would be created with the goal of locking carbon in the soil.

Waxman commented after meeting four dozen farm-group leaders for 90 minutes. He said the meeting underlined distrust in farm country of the Environmental Protection Agency, which would have a major role in climate programs. Urban lawmakers are skeptical the Agriculture Department has the expertise to oversee carbon offset programs.

“We’ve got to figure out a way that everyone is comfortable with the validity of offsets,” said Waxman.

He said the climate bill was unlikely to go to a floor vote next week. The bill is aimed at reducing U.S. industry’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels and 83 percent by 2050.

Asked if there would be direct payments to farmers, Rep. Edward Markey said of the idea, “It’s not going to lead you anywhere.”

Markey is a leading backer of the bill and was at the meeting. Two administration officials also took part.

Asked about a new stewardship program, he said, “I think there were some ideas that looked a lot more promising yesterday than today.”

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said farm groups want the opportunity to earn money for carbon offsets, such as contracts now available in climate exchanges that run like futures markets.

“We want something that works,” said Johnson.

“There’s a commitment on both sides to work hard,” Markey said.

One farm group representative at the meeting said Waxman aides suggested a federal program that would pay a pre-set fee to farmers who agreed to adopt specific practices that would reduce greenhouse gases.

Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Christian Wiessner