Calling for carbon credit regulationJuly 26, 2021
With help from Helena Bottemiller Evich and Alex Nieves
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— Agricultural carbon credit programs are proliferating, but the standards they follow differ widely, according to a major new report calling for more oversight.
— Georgia poultry processing plants are facing nearly $1 million in fines after six workers died following liquid nitrogen exposure earlier this year. One company is already vowing to challenge the penalties.
— The top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee wants chair David Scott asking for hearings to discuss the Senate’s bipartisan carbon market bill before a committee vote.
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A PLEA FOR USDA TO OVERSEE CARBON MARKETS: There’s a gold rush in agricultural carbon markets, but there isn’t agreement on what, exactly, makes a carbon credit legit, per a new report out later today from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Woodwell Climate Research Center, our Helena Bottemiller Evich reports.
First look in MA: The report reviewed a dozen published protocols, which are essentially nongovernmental standards that stipulate how to measure and generate a carbon credit that can be verified and sold to an interested buyer.
Treasure or trash: Today, there is considerable variation in how these protocols define carbon credits and there’s an intense debate among scientists and others about which are rigorous and which are, frankly, not trustworthy.
“It’s a very contentious space right now,” said Emily Oldfield, lead author of the report and an agricultural soil carbon scientist at EDF, in an interview.
A call to standardize: Green groups are calling for USDA to set standards so there’s more clarity in the rapidly changing market. “There’s a lot of variation and we need USDA to step into that role,” said Callie Eideberg, director of agricultural policy for EDF.
Eideberg predicted USDA would probably not take action in this space until closer to the end of this year, or early 2022. What role the department will ultimately play is “anybody’s guess,” she said.
Checking the field: EDF is a founding member of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a broad coalition that supports the Growing Climate Solutions Act. That bill does not go quite as far as calling for USDA to set standards, but directs the department to set up a verification program for technical assistance providers and third party verifiers.
Asked if there broad agreement within FACA that USDA should dive in to set standards, Eideberg replied: “There’s recognition of needing a referee on the field.”
POULTRY PROCESSORS FACES OSHA FINE: Several poultry processing companies operating a Gainesville, Ga. plant are facing nearly $1 million in fines from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration after a liquid nitrogen leak caused the death of six workers and injured dozens more, reports Pro Labor’s Rebecca Rainey.
The federal workplace safety watchdog on Friday said that Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. and FS Group Inc. “failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak," and didn't provide workers with training or equipment "that could have saved their lives.”
The agency wants the companies to pay $998,637 for 59 violations of worker safety rules.
What happened: Five workers were killed immediately after entering a room housing a malfunctioning freezer at the Georgia plant that was leaking liquid nitrogen into the air, according to the Labor Department. Another worker died while being taken to the hospital and at least a dozen other workers had to be hospitalized after exposure to the chemical, the agency said.
All six deaths were caused by asphyxiation, agency officials said on a press call Friday, alleging that the incident was preventable.
OSHA officials also noted they have difficulty finding workers for interviews, “likely because many are undocumented and fear getting in trouble,” reports the HuffPost.
But not all are ready to pay the price. Packers Sanitation Services plans to challenge the citation, alleging they had no involvement.
"Our employees were not on-site and were [in] no way involved with this tragic incident," said Gina Swenson, senior director of marketing for Packers Sanitation Services.
WHEN IN ROME: Agriculture Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh will lead the United States delegation to the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome which begins today.
Leading up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit in New York in September, Bronaugh and U.S. officials will be working with other countries and food systems stakeholders in Rome to discuss goals for food security and nutrition, climate change, and equity and inclusion, according to a statement.
While in Rome, Bronaugh will also meet with Italian government officials, including Minister of Agriculture Stefano Pautuanelli and Under Secretary of State for Ecological Transition Vannia Gava, and UN officials, including Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley.
SIMPLOT FACES EPA FINE: J.R. Simplot Co. is facing a $65,250 fine from the Environmental Protection Agency after the agency cited pesticide containment issues at plants in Oregon and Idaho, reported the Tri-City Herald.
The Oregon plant raised concerns about underground contamination from a piping hole on the floor of the facility, the Herald reported, and the Idaho plant risked exposure to workers due to “pesticide spills that had solidified on the ground.”
THOMPSON SPEAKS OUT ON GCSA: Ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) sent a letter to Committee Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) on Friday asking for a hearing specifically on the Senate-passed Growing Climate Solutions Act and additional hearings on carbon markets prior to scheduling a markup on the measure.
To recap: The bill would direct USDA to start certifying budding carbon credit programs to pay farmers to capture carbon dioxide and sequester it in soil and forestland.
“I believe the federal government’s role must be carefully considered and vetted before Congress legislates on carbon trading markets, and more technical feedback is essential at this time,” the letter said.
Thompson has long been opposed to the GCSA, a bill that passed with substantial bipartisan support in the Senate and was led in part by Republicans John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.). Prior to Senate passage, Thompson and other House Republicans even unveiled their own alternative package of bills.
SENATE PANEL ADVANCES MILITARY HUNGER PROVISION: The Senate Armed Services Committee last week advanced the National Defense Authorization Act which included key provisions to address food insecurity among active duty military members and their families.
The bill includes parts of the Military Hunger Prevention Act and creates a basic needs allowance that would provide a monthly allowance for troops and their families who, as a household, have an income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty rate. Many of these families are excluded from access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
What’s next: The panel voted 23-3 to approve the bill in a closed markup on Wednesday, reported Pro Defense’s Connor O’Brien, but the Senate isn't expected to consider the bill until September at the earliest
CALIFORNIA REP DESTROYS HMONG CANNABIS FARMS: Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) released videos of himself bulldozing unlicensed cannabis grows in Northern California while quoting an iconic Vietnam War movie, a move local Hmong farmers say could stoke racial tensions that have escalated during a major wildfire that continues to burn in the area, reported POLITICO California’s Alex Nieves.
The Republican congressman posted four videos to YouTube originally filmed in May that show him operating a bulldozer to destroy greenhouses and cannabis plants on seized pot farms in Siskiyou County. LaMalfa has long condemned the sites as destructive to the environment.
The grows are illegal in that county and often lack sewage systems and other environmental safety measures. But advocates for local farmers say the timing of the videos — weeks after law enforcement officers fatally shot a 35-year-old Hmong man during a mandatory wildfire evacuation — is problematic, as is the congressman's language.
“I love the smell of diesel power in the afternoon. It smells like victory,” LaMalfa says in one of the videos, playing off a quote from the movie "Apocalypse Now."
A quick history: Most Hmong Americans came to the United States as refugees in the late 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War. Thousands of Laotian Hmongs fled to Thailand after the war before resettling in the United States after being persecuted by the Laotian government for their perceived support of the Americans.
Racial tensions are already high in Siskiyou County, where crews for weeks have been battling the 26,000-acre Lava Fire. Hmong farmers have accused firefighters of refusing to put out blazes that approached cannabis grows. Law enforcement officials countered that farmers blocked access roads and threw rocks at approaching firefighters.
— New Forest Chief Randy Moore will be sworn in as the Agriculture Department’s 20th chief today. Moore will serve as the first African American to hold the role.
— Oregon Gov. Kate Brown warned that continued side effects of climate change will lead to more large wildfires each season. POLITICO’s Connor O’Brien reports.
— Meat processing workers were paid an average hourly wage of $15.53, nearly $5 lower than the average wage for all manufacturing employees despite higher illness and injury rates, according to Investigate Midwest.
— Farmers in California that are continuing to grapple with drought may soon exhaust one of their only options left. NPR has the story.
— Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack predicts the jump in U.S. food prices from last month will stabilize, reports Bloomberg.
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