A close look at the Growing Climate Solutions Act
Written by Zach Ishee, J.D. Candidate '23, University of Mississippi, Research Fellow, National Agricultural Law Center
Zach has been working with OSU's Agricultural and Resource Law Program thanks to our partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center.
A major piece of environmental legislation currently making waves is the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA), S. 1251. The GCSA passed through the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, by a final tally of 92-8. The bill sponsored by Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) had 27 Democratic co-sponsors, 26 Republican co-sponsors, and one independent co-sponsor. Although it has been criticized by some for not doing enough, the final vote shows a willingness by this Senate to grapple with the issues surrounding the environment and the climate.
Purpose of the Growing Climate Solutions Act
The goal of the GCSA is to ease the burden on farmers, ranchers, and foresters entering the voluntary carbon markets through the creation of the Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification program. The program’s efforts will be focused on removing the technical barriers of entry into the marketplace. The program calls for certification of certain entities to improve accurate information flow to farmers, ranchers, and foresters.
Timeline and Advisory Council
The Agriculture Secretary will have eight months from the bill’s passage to create the Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification program. If the Secretary decides against the program, he must publish a detailed explanation of why he has decided against the program.
An advisory council will be established to help the USDA create protocols for calculating, sampling, accounting, verification and reporting methodologies. The advisory council will be comprised of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) representatives, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representatives, and agriculture industry representatives, among other qualified participants. The council must have at least twelve members from the agriculture industry and at least six active farmers or ranchers. The council is also required to have at least four members from the forestry industry. Other groups of participants are capped between two and four members but include members from the scientific research community, members of the private sector who deal in voluntary credits, and experts/professionals in the verification field. In total, over half of those serving on the council will be farmers, ranchers, and private forest owners.
Once the protocols have been created, the USDA must provide information for how entities self-certify and instructions on how to assist the farmers, ranchers, and private forest owners. The bill will require the creation of a website exclusively dedicated to assisting the potential market participants on best practices.
The certification granted by the USDA will allow an approved entity to claim they are a “USDA-certified technical assistance provider or third-party verifier for voluntary environmental credit markets”. Other entities, not approved by the USDA, that claim this certification or something substantially similar are subject to a monetary fine of $1,000 and become ineligible to participate in the program for five years. The certified entities will be audited at least annually to ensure compliance with USDA guidelines.
The GCSA will receive $1 million in funding from 2022-20226 along with $4.1 million rescinded from the American Rescue Act of 2021. This relatively small amount of new funding is likely one of the reasons for such strong bipartisan support for this bill.
Although this bill is a welcome start to addressing climate issues through agriculture participants, a few large questions remain. The bill does nothing to address some of the main concerns that industry experts have, for example the bill does not directly mention farmer data. Of course, data is an extreme concern for the participants in voluntary credit markets because of how much data must be turned over prior to verification of their created credits. It seems the advisory council will certainly address this issue, among others, but this bill does not create certainty with respect to data. It will be extremely important to keep track of the recommendations made by the advisory council and the USDA’s final decision on best practices as they will set the standard for voluntary credit markets moving forward.
Multiple organizations have come out in opposition of this bill. Family Farm Action has criticized the GCSA for playing into the hands of the major agribusinesses, stating “Without strong, preemptive antitrust protections, a carbon credit program would pay these agribusinesses for their pollution, compounding the already-substantial challenges they pose to the food system and the planet.” Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) has also vocalized his reasoning for being part of the minority voting against the bill saying, “I don’t believe that an offset system that subsidizes corporations’ continued pollution in front-line communities is the best strategy. Let’s set incentives that reduce pollution in both agriculture and front-line neighborhoods.” The opposition to this bill has almost completely been in the camp that the bill does not do enough, rather than outright opposition against the overarching theme of combating climate change.
On the other hand, support for the GCSA has been easy to find. Kameran Onley, the Director of North American Policy and Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy has come out in support for the bill stating, “American farmers know that sustainability and profitability go hand in hand. This bill will help farmers improve their operations, build new revenue streams, and implement climate-smart practices to safeguard our environment for the future.” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall thanked lawmakers for the bipartisanship and further said, “The Growing Climate Solutions Act acknowledges the potential of climate-smart farming while ensuring farmers would be respected as partners who can build on our strong foundation of environmental stewardship." The support for the bill has been focused on the Senate’s ability to work across the aisle to begin structuring a unified approach towards carbon credit markets.
Clearly the bill still awaits a vote in the House of Representatives to make it to the President’s desk to become law. Although no timeline exists for a house vote at this point, good reason exists to believe it could make its way through the House quickly. As of right now a companion bill exists in the house, H.R. 2820, which goes by the same name, Growing Climate Solutions Act. The companion bill is substantially the same as the Senate bill, calling for the same advisory council and certification process. The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Abigail Davis Spanberger (D-VA-7) and co-sponsored by 33 Democrats and 19 Republicans, which is only further proof of the bipartisanship seen in the climate arena. The latest action on the House version of the Growing Climate Solutions Act was its referral to the House Committee on Agriculture April 22nd of this year. The Senate bill was received and held at desk in the House as of June 24th of this year. Although the House Agriculture Committee has yet to schedule a markup if the legislation, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus has endorsed the bill.