Thirty-five Senate Republicans and three Democrats support Senate Resolution 26 to block the federal Environmental Protection Agency from reducing greenhouse gas emissions from large emitters like coal power plants. One of the most vocal sponsors of the senate resolution, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, cited her “support of goals curbing greenhouse gases” in her press release. However, she has criticized and rejected all climate legislation proposed to date.
Arkansas politics may have driven this decision, but sound economic analyses and science did not. Multiple studies by respected institutions show that a balanced climate and energy bill is good for the environment, good for the economy and will lead us to more jobs and greater energy security. Even agriculture and forestry, two of Arkansas's most important industries, can benefit from a balanced bill. Time is ticking, though. Under climate change, agriculture is the most identified domestic economic sector likely to be negatively impacted.
Kansas State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that agriculture has more to gain than lose with passage of a comprehensive climate and energy bill. The House bill now in the Senate exempts production agriculture from emission caps, provides transitional assistance, and fosters the development of carbon offset markets that will enhance agricultural revenues.
The University of Tennessee found that a properly constructed cap and trade program would bring net annual revenues of up to $13 billion annually to agriculture and forestry. Arkansas rice producers say they will be ruined under cap and trade. Yet rice production's decline is a measly 0.1%. When carbon and methane reduction offsets are factored, rice production generates a net revenue stream. The Texas A&M analysis shows a whopping $24 billion annual benefit to farm income when offsets are included in a nationwide cap and trade system. And the good news for agriculture keeps coming — biofuel production adds more revenue as a cap on greenhouse gas emissions creates greater demand for biofuel-producing crops.
Like other Americans, farmers may face increased initial energy costs from climate change legislation. However, a cap and trade market with offsets would generate revenue that would lower the cost of compliance and generate additional revenue to agricultural and forestry producers.
Let's also calculate the cost of inaction that pushes carbon reduction into the distant future. Arkansas's biggest industry is tourism. Total travel expenditures in 2008 for Arkansas were almost $5.6 billion. A 2006 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that $1.8 billion was spent in Arkansas for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. What happens to the state's tourism and outdoor recreation industry when climate change impacts more waterfowl and wildlife and these species decline or disappear? What happens if smallmouth bass, trout, and cold water fisheries are eliminated from our lakes and rivers?
The Senator and her senate partners need to work together to develop climate policies that are good for the environment and for the economy. Can we convene forums that bring sound solutions instead of hyperbole and fear? The Senator's opposition to climate action may be good politics but it is not leadership. Her sons and mine will pay the bill.
Kenneth Smith is director of Audubon Arkansas. Ernest Dumas will return next week.