We’ve been talking about developing an actual carbon policy for forest management. Republicans have been willing to concede that planting trees would be beneficial, but others say that is not enough. We now have a more comprehensive bipartisan legislative proposal that is getting some attention – The Trillion Trees and Natural Carbon Storage Act. According to the Washington Post, “The forestry proposal is the first to emerge from the Climate Solutions Caucus, which Coons and Braun launched a little more than a year ago.” It “directs the U.S. Forest Service to set goals for how much carbon the forests, grasslands, wetlands and some coastal areas should sequester from the atmosphere.”
According to sponsor Senator Young (R-IN), among the things it would do is:
- Requires that USDA establish objectives for increasing the net carbon stock of American forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal blue carbon habitats.
Young’s website provides a link to the bill. The specific language applicable to the Forest Service is to establish within two years, “objectives for increased net carbon stock for the forest, grassland, wetland, and coastal blue carbon habitat ecosystems of the United States that are owned or managed by the Federal Government.” The objectives “shall be established at levels that assist in achieving (A) the optimally feasible and ecologically appropriate increase in the total net carbon stock.” Those objectives, “shall be based on information relating to the maintenance or restoration of the ecological integrity of the ecosystems described in subsection (a), including maintaining or restoring ecologically appropriate forest, grassland, wetland, and blue carbon habitat structure, function, composition, and connectivity…” That sounds like it is straight out of the 2012 Planning Rule. There is no mention of national forest planning per se in the bill, but it is hard to see any other vehicle for implementing this policy and these objectives on national forests.
Young’s website also states that, “This legislation is supported by The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon Society, Bipartisan Policy Center, American Forest Foundation, American Conservation Coalition, National Association of State Foresters, Conservation International, and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.”
According the Environmental Defense Fund, it “follows recommendations from climate scientists and nonprofit organizations to focus on measuring climate impact instead of number of trees planted.” EDF’s summary:
- Expand existing U.S. Forest Service carbon accounting to include grasslands, wetlands and coastal ecosystems, in addition to forests.
- Ensure that forests and other ecosystems will be valued not only for harvested materials, but also for important climate mitigation functions.
- Measure progress using “net carbon stock,” a metric that reflects the dynamic nature of ecosystems and how carbon stores can grow or shrink over time.
- Direct the Forest Service to share expertise, including technical capacity to increase carbon stored in urban forests, with states and recipients of U.S. foreign aid.
- Provide funding to alleviate the nation’s 1.3-million-acre backlog of reforestation projects.
One section of the bill intends to provide financing “to facilitate the sale of credits in the voluntary carbon market or other recognized environmental market…” However (as described in the same Washington Post article linked above), carbon offsets have become an issue in relation to the nomination of Mary Nichols, the longtime head of the California Air Resources Board, to be the new director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
One central point of contention is her achievement of California’s cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions. The program allows companies to offset harmful emissions by paying for forestation or other projects that decrease gases elsewhere. But opponents say it amounts to a license to pollute with poor and minority communities bearing the brunt of environmental harms.
Carbon has also come up in relation to the nomination of Tom Vilsack to be USDA Secretary. The chance to work on Biden’s climate agenda may have made the job more attractive for Vilsack to return. Carbon seems to offer an interesting opportunity for the USDA to actually unite its agricultural and forestry forces behind a common goal.