House Ag Committee Grills Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack began his testimony before the House Agriculture Committee shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday and didn’t leave the table until nearly 6 p.m. as committee members peppered him with questions on how H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, will impact agriculture. Vilsack did have a brief break from the hot seat, when committee members took a brief recess for a floor vote.

Vilsack did not endorse or oppose the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, but he did say he supported the concept of the measure. He told committee members he respected the role they will play in crafting the legislation and there is clearly a lot of work to be done on the bill.

Many committee members stressed to Vilsack that USDA, not the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should run an offset program for agriculture. The House bill does not specify which projects would qualify for carbon offsets, and instead would leave that to EPA.

Several committee members said USDA is best positioned to oversee the offsets due to its experience, resources and extensive rural network of offices. “Leaving these offsets at the discretion of the EPA makes me nervous,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R- Va.).

But Vilsack said it was premature to hand the responsibility solely to USDA and insisted the program was better positioned to be shared by EPA, USDA and other departments.

Vilsack acknowledged that the bill would create additional costs for agriculture, but said “if we do it right, I know the benefits will outweigh the costs” because of the proven ability of the U.S. to innovate. He provided no specific details on how agriculture would benefit, but did say that improvements in seed technology could reduce costs and the need for energy-based inputs.

In response to a question, Vilsack said USDA has not done a cost or impact study of the legislation and is instead waiting on a study from EPA.


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