Climate change legislation, awaiting resumption of debate when the Senate returns from its August recess, “has both great opportunities and great risks, and we want to be sure that if anything passes it is what’s best for landowners and tree farmers,” says Erica Rhoad, director of policy for the Society of American Foresters.

She said at a Climate Change Legislation Workshop at Mississippi State University that SAF, an organization assessing forest management and natural resources issues, and developing policies and strategies, has established a task force to determine what role domestic managed forests will have in climate change and carbon sequestration, how climate change will impact forests, and how managed forests can reduce the escape of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“Depending on how they are managed, forests can be carbon sinks or sources, and policies must address all the ways that forests can address greenhouse gas emissions,” she says.

“Only time will tell” about the fate of the bill in the Senate, Rhoad says. “There’s potential for something to pass, but legislation this controversial will be difficult. One advantage, there are more forestry/agriculture members in the Senate than the House.

“Our No. 1 recommendation: Stay informed and engaged on this issue — these are your elected officers and your tax dollars, and any laws that are passed can have an impact for generations.”

Todd Wooten, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University, and an expert on climate policy and carbon market design, says the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey) is “the first time a house of Congress has passed legislation setting targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The bill sets reduction targets of 17 percent below 2005 emissions levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, says Wooten, who previously was legislative counsel for Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., analyzing policy on issues involving climate, energy, environmental issues

“The 2020 number is higher than those suggested by President Obama, but considerably lower than comparable targets in Europe,” he says. “Of particular interest to agriculture and forestry are the sections of the bill dealing with offsets — voluntary emissions reductions that occur in sectors of the economy not required to make reductions.”

“Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) fought for, and won, inclusion of language expressly exempting these sectors from mandatory emissions reductions.”

The bill also establishes an entire separate subtitle under which the USDA has authority over agriculture and forestry offsets. “The continuing authority of the EPA is unclear and, presumably, will be worked out in further discussions with the Obama administration and in the Senate,” Wooten says.

The legislation would provide “a market-based approach to regulating pollution, rather than trying to accomplish it with a tax on polluters, such as coal-fired power plants, refineries, etc.,” Wooten notes.

He says there is “tremendous potential” for landowners and tree farmers to gain added income from entities wanting to purchase carbon offsets.

Wooten says, “I vary on whether the Senate will pass this. Given all the fighting surrounding health care, it may be really tough to get a climate change bill through the Senate.

“But if it doesn’t pass, we feel there will be a voluntary market to accommodate businesses and others wanting to purchase credits.”

Noting that prices for carbon offsets have dropped tremendously in price (analysts say they need to be in the $8 to $10 range to be attractive), Wooten says “If this legislation goes forward, we feel prices will rise.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com