The Growing Climate Solutions Act—passed in the Senate and currently awaiting action in the House—can help facilitate sustainable practices among landowners by providing the opportunity to buy and sell carbon credits.
Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are entrepreneurial in recognizing opportunities that help them meet their financial bottom line. Agriculture in the United States is dominated by family farms; as such, farm owners manage their lands with the assumption of multigenerational ownership, which motivates them to adopt sustainable practices. One solution that can facilitate sustainable practices is to introduce voluntary programs for buying and selling carbon credits.
The emergence, more than three decades ago, of carbon offsets and environmental credit trading initiatives has enabled entities—most often businesses—to pay for projects anywhere in the world that sequester or reduce carbon dioxide emissions. While interest in offsets has persisted, related activity has exploded recently among companies with ambitious sustainability goals. (Delta Airlines and Amazon are some examples of companies that now consider offsets a major component of their climate strategies.)
The agriculture and forestry communities already engage in practices that directly sequester carbon, including cover cropping on farmlands and sustainable forestry. Several programs at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, actively use grants to fund projects that promote sustainable practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., by supporting anaerobic digester installation on farms).
Over the past several years, landowners have shown increasing interest in entering the offset and credit trading marketplace. But a common refrain among these landowners has been, “Where can I get information on how to participate?” Through program and technical assistance from the Cooperative Extension system of the land grant universities, a partnership with USDA, attempts have been made to provide the necessary information about carbon credits; however, these attempts have not always been equitable. In addition, the marketplace puts a premium on the verification and validation of projects to ensure the projects are in fact meeting goals for greenhouse gas reduction, but individual landowners generally are not able to afford these verification services.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2021—reintroduced this year and recently passed by the Senate, with a companion bill currently awaiting a legislative hearing by the House Committee on Agriculture—is a bipartisan effort to make it easier for millions of landowners to participate in the voluntary marketplace to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill tasks USDA with ensuring that third-party verification of projects is accessible and affordable by providing necessary technical assistance and creating a certification program. This enhancement of conservation programs that focus on climate mitigation at USDA is an important step toward encouraging sustainable practices among farmers, ranchers, and foresters—the stewards of our nation’s landscape.