This blogpost is cross-posted from the HLS Food Law & Policy Clinic Blog. Original version here.
In June 2020, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (Select Committee) released Solving the Climate Crisis, a comprehensive set of recommendations to confront climate change and resulting economic and racial inequities. Created in January 2019 by House Resolution 6, the bipartisan Select Committee spent 17 months interviewing scientists and stakeholders and gathering input through hearings and written comments. The Select Committee’s efforts ultimately culminated in hundreds of policy recommendations focused on 12 key pillars. As a member of the Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE), Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) responded to a number of the Select Committee’s questions on ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change through two separate submissions: (1) on behalf of FBLE, FLPC submitted recommendations on agriculture policy and, (2) FLPC submitted recommendations on food loss and waste reduction policy. We are pleased to see that many of FBLE and FLPC’s recommendations were included in the Select Committee’s report. This post highlights where the Committee adopted recommendations in line with FLPC’s submissions and notes opportunities where the Select Committee could make its recommendations even more effective.
One of FBLE’s key recommendations was to move the United States agricultural system away from reliance on annual crops and toward a more sustainable perennial system. The SCCC report recognized the significant climate benefits agroforestry offers and recommends that Congress fund agroforestry research and establish a grant program (through existing conservation program funding) to support farmers transitioning to agroforestry.
FBLE also recommended that conservation compliance requirements be revised to include climate-friendly practices. Set forth in the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill, conservation compliance requires producers to follow a conservation plan approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service when planting crops on highly erodible land and prohibits producers from planting on wetlands. FBLE recommended that government funds only be awarded to producers who incorporate conservation and climate measures on their land, as opposed to producers who meet the minimum requirements for highly erodible lands and wetlands. FBLE also noted that even if conservation compliance requirements remained unchanged, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must increase enforcement of the requirement for them to be effective.
In line with FBLE’s submission, the Select Committee recommended that enforcement of the conservation compliance requirements be improved. However, the Select Committee’s enforcement strategy focused mostly on administrative changes, rather than conservation compliance. To further promote conservation compliance, the Select Committee recommended that Congress increase funding to restore native grasses and wetlands and expand the sodsaver policy. Currently, this policy only applies to six states, so expansion would be beneficial. Nevertheless, the change falls short of FBLE’s recommendation that subsidies be made conditional on enhanced conservation compliance. Therefore, the Select Committee’s suggested changes may be too minor to achieve the Committee’s purported goals.
Crop insurance offers an additional opportunity to incentivize climate-friendly farming practices. As FBLE suggested, the Select Committee recommended that the USDA provide more resources to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection Program, an insurance program that provides coverage for all of a farmer’s crops, thus eliminating the need to insure each crop individually. The Select Committee further suggested that Congress increase the USDA’s capacity to help farmers enroll in the program and offer higher incentives for incorporating crop diversification and climate conscious farming practices. Finally, the Select Committee included FBLE’s recommendation to offer discounts on crop insurance to farmers who use climate-friendly practices.
FBLE also made a number of recommendations regarding improvements to conservation programs to help achieve climate goals. FLPC is pleased to see that the Select Committee included many of FBLE’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) recommendations in its report, including expanding acreage protected under the CRP, increasing rental rates, lifting administrative barriers to CRP enrollment, extending CRP contract limits and allowing permanent easements. the Select Committee also addressed FBLE’s recommendations for improving the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and included the recommendation to make practices that promote carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions eligible for conservation incentive contracts. FLPC is disappointed, however, that the Select Committee did not take up FBLE’s recommendation to cut funding for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Despite the environmental harm caused by methane gas emissions from these operations, the Select Committee did not address CAFOs in its report.
All of these suggested policy changes can greatly reduce agriculture’s impact on climate change. However, in order to sustain this progress, Congress must invest in future developments of our agricultural system. FBLE recommended many ways Congress could contribute to ongoing research on climate-friendly farming practices. The Select Committee included the recommendation to formally authorize regional USDA Climate Hubs, which will produce practical science-based research and provide general support to farmers engaged in climate-friendly farming. Further, while not included in FBLE’s recommendations, FLPC agrees with the Select Committee’s recommendation that Congress should provide financial and technical support to beginning, young, and socially disadvantaged farmers working to adopt climate-smart practices.
In addition to the recommendations submitted as a member of FBLE, FLPC submitted its own recommendations on food loss and waste reduction policy opportunities. For years FLPC has supported local, state, and federal policies that divert excess food to people in need and prevent the economic and environmental impact of food waste. FLPC submitted several food loss and waste policy recommendations to the Select Committee and is excited the Committee demonstrated its commitment to reducing food waste and increasing food recovery in its final report. The Select Committee recommended that Congress support implementation and provide funding for the Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative and provide financial resources to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. The Committee also called for Congress to increase support and investments in food waste reduction initiatives in homes, schools, grocery stores, and restaurants, as well as on the farm, throughout the government, and in landfills. These recommendations align with FLPC’s submitted recommendations. Although the Select Committee’s recommendations are broad, they specifically suggest that funds and resources be provided for food waste reduction efforts. FLPC’s submission detailed a number of specific ways that Congress support and invest in food waste reduction, should Congress decide to create targeted solutions in upcoming legislation.
For example, Congress could provide funding for a national food waste educational campaign or for comprehensive research and tracking on the amount of food lost or wasted at each stage of the supply chain. Additionally, funding could be allocated to the USDA to study imperfect produce waste and potential solutions and to research and create grant programs for innovative technologies that limit food waste. To divert food waste from landfills, Congress could increase funding to support the construction of composting and anaerobic digestion facilities, provide research and development funding for food recycling technologies, and fully fund the Compost and Food Waste Reduction Pilot Projects grant that was included in the 2018 American Agricultural Act (2018 Farm Bill), while providing funding to states and localities that seek to implement organic waste bans. Congress has many opportunities to invest in food loss and waste reduction, thereby leading our nation in the fight against the global climate crisis. We hope Congress will consider the many food waste reduction opportunities supported by FLPC and the Select Committee.
FLPC looks forward to seeing all of these recommendations incorporated into U.S. agricultural policy. One bill that already addresses many of these issues is the Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R. 5861). Introduced by Representative Chellie Pingree, the bill would increase funding and support for farmers committed to climate-friendly farming practices, such as land conservation and carbon sequestration. The bill would also encourage the use of digesters to convert methane emissions from livestock and food waste into renewable energy. To help reinforce SCCC’s recommendations, FLPC hopes that Congress considers passing the Agriculture Resilience Act to achieve a climate-friendly and resilient agricultural system.