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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the National Corn Growers Association, As Prepared

07/16/2009
As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for inviting me to talk with you today. We have a lot to discuss – particularly with regard to the critical issue of climate change and the clean energy legislation to address it.

There’s almost no sector of our economy that has been – or will be – more vulnerable to climate change than agriculture. Scientists broadly agree that droughts and other extreme weather events will continue intensify as a result of the changing climate. And those changes will continue to affect the lives and livelihoods of American farmers.

Droughts have hit farming communities in the west, southwest and southeast in recent years. They’ve caused extreme hardship to growers and their families. The US Global Change Research Program reports that if we fail to act on climate change, then over the course of this century the Great Plains would experience more sustained droughts, and new infestations of insect pests.

The Southeast – along with droughts – would experience coastal inundation, declines in livestock production due to heat stress, and more frequent and intense forest wildfires. The Midwest would experience reductions in water levels in the Great Lakes, more frequent spring flooding, and more severe summer drought. The effects on farm operations have been, and will be, devastating.

Just as important to confront is the impact that dependence on foreign oil has on materials like fertilizer and fuel. I’m sure no one has forgotten the price of fuel about this time last year: $4 and $5-a-gallon diesel prices, as well as high prices for fertilizer drove up the cost of almost everything you do. Those prices have abated some, but the volatility of these markets has an enormous impact on entire rural economies. Since the beginning of this year, the price of oil has nearly doubled. Clearly, we still face significant vulnerabilities to address.

We all need to step up and take action, including the agriculture community. A first step in addressing climate change and creating a clean energy economy was taken by the House of Representatives when it passed a landmark clean energy and climate bill last month. The debate has now been taken up in the Senate, and I will be testifying with Secretary Vilsack before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry next week.

We see in the bill significant opportunities for agriculture and rural economies. Under the House bill, American farmers, foresters, and ranchers would be the beneficiaries of a new, voluntary offsets program. Through the use of things like afforestation, no-till farming, and capture of methane emissions from manure EPA projects that American farmers, foresters, and ranchers would receive nearly $3 billion through the program in 2020 alone. That amount would increase every year.

In addition to offsets, the transition to clean energy will provide greater opportunities for renewable energy technologies like anaerobic digesters, geothermal, and wind power. Those technologies can reduce farmers’ reliance on fossil fuels at the same time they provide new revenue sources and new jobs for rural communities.

Let me be clear: we understand that we can’t get something for nothing. But if we work together, we can make a seamless and affordable transition to clean energy – one that creates millions of jobs, makes us a world leader in a booming market, and cuts significant amounts of pollution from our air.

The Congressional Budget Office projects an average annual per-household cost of 48 cents per day in 2020. That impact would not be uniform across the country. But even if the cost borne by the average household in such a state were double the national average, it still would be less than a dollar a day. It’s a small down payment for a very big payoff. Can anyone honestly say that the head of an American household wouldn’t spend a dollar a day to safeguard the well-being of his or her children, to reduce the amount of money that we send overseas for oil, to place American entrepreneurs back in the lead of the global marketplace, and to create new American jobs that pay well and cannot be outsourced?

We’re also asking the agricultural sector to make its own modest investment in building a clean energy future. But there are incentives that we’ve provided to ensure a smooth transition to sustainability.

Nitrogen fertilizer manufacturers who use natural gas as a feedstock would receive free allocations of allowances to energy-intensive manufacturers. Wet corn milling would also receive a free allocation under the same program for energy-intensive manufacturing. Phosphate fertilizer and pesticides are subject to international competition that would prevent domestic suppliers from sharply raising prices. And the House bill includes a substantial allocation of free allowances to consumers of propane.

I would strongly urge you to support these and other measures in the bill before the Senate. I know there is great concern about how this bill will affect your business. But rather than gearing up for battle, it’s important that we work towards partnership – for our sake and yours.

Let me tell you two strong reasons why I think it’s very much in your interest to come to the table:

First, farm-state representatives fought for and won a series of very significant benefits for corn growers in the House bill. There is competition from other stakeholders for certain of those benefits, and outright opposition to certain others. If you want farm-state Senators to preserve those benefits in the Senate bill, then they need to know that corn growers will recognize and appreciate those benefits, and not attack farm-state Senators who vote in favor of a bill containing them.

The second is the inevitability of taking action. We are not at a point where I can say Congress will enact a climate law tomorrow. But we are at a point where I can say that Congress will enact a climate law, now or in the near future. Delay is not in your favor. It took many years and several Congresses to pass the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. But that law did eventually become law. And with every delay and every new version of the bill the legislation got more stringent. That trend is even more pronounced when it comes to climate legislation. The longer we wait to start curbing global warming, the deeper the emissions reductions needed to curb global warming. The Waxman-Markey bill calls for deeper reductions than the Lieberman-Warner bill of 2007, which in turn called for deeper reductions than the McCain-Lieberman bill of 2005.

Another place where delay is detrimental is in the drought and flood challenges areas across the US. That will also get worse in the years ahead. Dealing with climate change now – with a modest, positive investment in clean energy incentives – is more productive and less expensive than waiting to deal with the negative consequences.

We have a chance to get this right – right now. The proponents of this bill – myself included – are eager to work with you to meet everyone’s needs, and I encourage you to engage in a very open dialogue.

One last key issue in the clean energy debate is corn ethanol. The President – true to his Illinois roots – has consistently underscored the importance of corn ethanol in our transition to viable renewable fuels.

I know that there has been concern about the proposed RFS 2 rule that was published, and I’m glad for the chance to offer my thoughts to you directly. First, it’s important to recognize that the proposal itself lays out rules that will provide for a significant expansion for corn ethanol and certainty for the market. It would grandfather in all 15B gallons of corn ethanol, the maximum allowed for credit under the RFS. With regard to the international indirect land use analysis, EPA has committed to an extensive and open peer review process. We’ve also extended the public comment period to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak on the issue. Our approach on this is consistent with my commitment to transparency and the use of science-based policies in our decision making.

We will continue to follow the intent of Congress by implementing the indirect land use provision included in the 2007 EISA. And we will be working with the Department of Agriculture and others on a rigorous peer-review system to ensure that the analysis of indirect impacts on land-use changes abroad is scientifically sound.

Clean energy is to this decade and the next what the Space Race was to the 1950s and 60s, and America is behind while other countries are seizing the moment. American businesses need strong incentives and investments now in order for this nation to lead the 21st Century global economy. We need to reassume our technological and economic leadership in the world to avert climate changes that would harm our economy, environment, and national security. And we need to act to ensure the sustainability of agricultural communities that are already feeling the effects of climate change.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act uses a single, free-market mechanism to raise the funds for clean energy development and give companies an incentive to use those new technologies.

It is important that you be a part of the solution. We need you on the cutting edge of our efforts to address climate change. Ignoring the issue is not an option. One way or another we’ll be forced to address climate change – either by reaping the benefits of clean energy, or by coping with the consequences of inaction.

America has always depended on the hard work and inventiveness of its farmers. We have benefited from your efforts to adopt new technologies and become more efficient in your use of land and resources. And we’re grateful for the leadership the National Corn Growers Association has shown to sustainability. We now have an opportunity to continue that leadership, and take on one of the toughest issues of our time.

I look forward to working with you and your members. Thank you very much.