Reward Carbon Mitigation in Every Industry

By Tim Portz
Virtually every media outlet has been reporting that nearly every U.S. industry stands to gain from the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which won passage in the House of Representatives by a small margin. Simultaneously, these same media outlets have also been reporting that nearly every industry will be crippled or destroyed by Waxman-Markey.

For instance, according to some media accounts, industrial electrical generators will clearly benefit as they'll be allowed to enjoy higher margins on regulated electric rates for the clean energy projects they take on. According to others, the cost of carbon will make pulverized coal facilities an albatross around the necks of the utilities who own those assets.

Other media sources are quick to point to the allowances that may be issued to these coal burning entities to ensure a soft landing, as a way of suggesting that emitters of carbon dioxide will be allowed to take their medicine in small doses, over an extended period of time.

What then is the fate of the American farmer? Most estimates suggest that between 10 percent and 13 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture and certainly agricultural producers will play a role in any greenhouse gas mitigation strategy. Will farmers be incented to engage in carbon reducing strategies, or will they be mandated? From my perspective, farmers are in a unique position relative to other industrial sectors because they grow crops that actually use and convert carbon dioxide. A failure to recognize this reality would draw any carbon mitigation strategy into question.

It would seem to be prudent to incentivize each and every sector of our economy, including American agriculture, to increase efficiency and drive carbon out of their production cycles. Farmers are familiar with, and in many instances are already practicing, no-till farming, incorporating biomass-based nitrogen inputs, producing energy through anaerobic digestion of manure streams, using crop residues to make advanced biofuels and planting dedicated energy crops to reduce their carbon footprints. All of these have a positive carbon consequence that farmers should be allowed to convert into revenue streams. With the abundance of negative press surrounding large-scale production farming, it would be a tragedy if carbon mitigation became another opportunity taken from our farmers.

Every industrial sector is going to have to take its dose of medicine. If carbon dioxide is, in fact, an externality we can no longer afford to ignore, then all facets of our economy need to change, farming included. It will be important that all involved see some opportunities amidst the challenges.

Tim Portz is a business developer with BBI International's Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at [email protected] or (651) 398-9154.