A Bipartisan Approach to Reduce Emissions on Working Lands

The Growing Climate Solutions Act recognizes the role played by farmers, ranchers, and foresters in the fight against climate change.
Sandhill Cranes. Mary D'Agostino/Audubon Photography Awards

Policies to promote natural climate solutions—actions that restore or enhance the capacity for trees and plants to absorb and sequester carbon pollution—are attracting a lot of attention from both sides of the aisle. There’s a good reason for that, as these policies are often win-win: they’re good for the climate, and they’re good for the local economy. When you add in the potential for habitat conservation and restoration, they’re good for birds too.

Enter the Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2021, reintroduced in the senate this week by lead sponsors Mike Braun (R-IN) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), along with several of their colleagues from both parties. As with last year’s version, the bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help expand, harmonize, and add structure to the existing patchwork of voluntary greenhouse gas offset markets around the country. It’s a bipartisan approach that recognizes the vital role our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners play in the fight against climate change. The bill would also lay the groundwork for new sources of revenue to flow to local economies in rural areas.

Greenhouse gas offset markets allow companies that emit greenhouse gases to purchase credits to offset their own emissions. The money from the sale of those credits directly supports measures like cover cropping, prescribed grazing, and reforestation that either reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, or remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in soil and biomass. Critical to the success of the bill are provisions that ensure any emissions reductions are permanent, and the measures implemented under the auspices of the bill are additional to what producers were already doing. Importantly for Audubon, the bill also includes avoided conversion of grasslands, forests, and wetlands as eligible activities for the generation of offsets, which will help slow habitat loss for countless species of birds and other wildlife.

Of course, this bill is merely a start; a necessary but incomplete blueprint for reducing some greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture and forestry sectors. But the bill’s sponsors deserve credit for coming up with ways to ensure that the stewards of our working lands are part of the solution to the climate crisis, and for growing the support for this bill substantially in less than a year.

Alongside clean energy and economy-wide solutions like carbon pricing, natural climate solutions are an important part of solving the climate puzzle and helping safeguard the survival of the two-thirds of North American bird species vulnerable to extinction from climate change. We urge the Congress to vote on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would facilitate and enable more of these types of projects.