Greens seek review of carbon offsets on U.S. lands

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservationists urged Obama administration officials on Wednesday to move cautiously on the use of carbon offsets on public lands, saying the mechanisms may interfere with land managers charged with protecting forests and other lands.

Under cap-and-trade legislation being considered by Congress, private carbon offsets could be applied to public forests and other federal lands.

Some federal forests, such as ones in the Pacific Northwest, have some of the highest carbon storage rates per acre of any place on the planet. Private carbon brokers and traders have been anxious to introduce use of offsets in those areas.

Forest carbon offsets allow industrial polluters who chose not to cut their own emissions to get credit for emissions reductions by paying others to protect or grow trees.

Obama administration officials have said they would be open to the use of offsets on public lands. But climate legislation has been delayed in the Senate and its future is unclear.

“Offset markets, if well designed and well-regulated, could steer needed resources into private land protection. However, extending this mechanism into the arena of federal land management raises numerous unexamined issues,” six conservation groups said in a letter on Wednesday to Secretaries Ken Salazar, of the Department of the Interior, and Tom Vilsack, of the Department of Agriculture. “

David Moulton, director of climate policy at the Wilderness Society, one of the groups that wrote the letter, said such private contracts could lead to conflicts with public land managers as they are charged with protecting whole ecosystems, not just the parts that store carbon dioxide.

In addition, public lands in many cases are already protected by land managers and laws, so offsets may not add any additional protections.

A spokeswoman at the DOI said the department was reviewing the letter.

The other groups that signed the letter were the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio