April 29, 2021
Director, Office of Energy and Environmental Policy
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20250
RE: Notice of Request for Comments Per President’s Executive Order of January 27, 2021 on Climate Change (Federal Register of March 16, 2021 – Docket Number: USDA-2021-003)
VIA FEDERAL eRULEMAKING PORTAL (http://www.regulations.gov)
Dear Mr. Hohenstein:
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) appreciates the opportunity to offer the following comments relative to USDA’s response to President Biden’s Executive Order of January 27 regarding climate change. PFB is a statewide general farm organization that provides political advocacy, information and educational services, and professional assistance for farm and rural families throughout Pennsylvania. Our organization includes fifty-four (54) local Farm Bureau affiliates that are actively engaged in sixty-three of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties. PFB is the state affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation. We appreciate the opportunity to offer comments regarding this Notice and the aforementioned Executive Order.
We would first acknowledge our full support of the views and positions stated in the comments to this Notice submitted by American Farm Bureau Federation. We respectfully request that American Farm Bureau’s comments be treated by this agency as if incorporated and made part of the comments we are providing herein. These comments reflect and advocate a market-driven and incentives-based policy approach in reducing the presence of greenhouse gases identified as affecting climate change. We believe strongly that agriculture can play a critical role in reducing the nation’s footprint of greenhouse gas emissions, both directly through production of renewable products that fuel energy generation and supplementally through responsible development of renewable energy generation systems on farms. Innovations and mainstreaming of advancements in agricultural production practices and farm management decisions have largely been driven through market-based approaches. Farm families, including the 52,700 operations managed by Pennsylvania’s farm families, constantly strive to make their farms more viable and responsive to their communities.
Market-based policies, including those for improvement environmental quality, provide farmers meaningful opportunity to consider and implement alternative production and land management options that improve economic viability and environmental quality. Because of innovation that was fostered through voluntary and market-driven forces, America’s farmers have been able to vastly increase their production of food products, with negligible impact on their footprint of greenhouse gas emissions.
We support what we believe to be this Administration’s earnest commitment to pursue and develop market-based approaches for agriculture in addressing climate change, and would encourage the Administration’s continued commitment to that end.
It was noted in the American Farm Bureau’s comments that agriculture contributes approximately 10% of greenhouse gas emissions nationally. Pennsylvania is in the process of revising the state’s Climate Action for management of response to climate change through 2050. In preparation for its Plan revision, an environmental impacts assessment of climate change factors and potential impacts was made, and a report based on this assessment was produced. A table contained in the draft environmental assessments report (based on 2017 estimates of greenhouse gas contributions) indicates that Pennsylvania’s contribution of greenhouse gas emissions is just 3% of total contribution of emissions from Pennsylvania sources – below emissions from residential fuel use (7%) and from processing by other commercial industries (5%), and well below emissions from waste (18%), transportation activities (24%) and electrical generation (29%).
An initial draft version of Pennsylvania’s revised Climate Action Plan has been completed and circulated to the body primarily responsible for review of the Plan. Assuming the final version of the Plan is substantially the same as the initial draft version circulated, the revised version will recommend only minor changes for greenhouse gas reductions to be made by the Commonwealth’s agriculture sector. The Plan will recommend that efforts to attain goal reductions in emissions by 2050 should be focused and concentrated in other commercial and human sectors.
We would encourage USDA to more carefully consider and provide clearer and more defined guidance on the standards and criteria to be applied in analysis, determination and governmental administration of environmental justice principles. This Administration has clearly stated that environmental justice will be a key component of its policy response to climate change. In concept, justice is a principle that nearly every American would support and believe our nation and our government should strive for. But there are many activities, practices and operations that may cause differing impacts upon individuals, with some affected positively and some negatively. And commercial enterprises and activities may be better suited in particular geographic areas of a local municipality or county, because of special characteristics that may exist in that area or because location of the enterprise in one area may minimize the potential for adverse impacts that could arise if located in other areas. The powers and duties that municipalities and counties exercise through zoning and land development regulation perform an important function in evaluating and balancing the relative interests and impacts of existing and anticipated land uses in specific areas of their jurisdiction.
Numerous individual practices and activities that are performed on today’s farms are not universally accepted and supported by local communities. Whether it be noise, odor, use of equipment, presence of animals, or use of farm inputs, there is a substantial likelihood that some individuals will object, and will object strongly. It is possible that the effects of a proposed activity, including a proposed agricultural activity, can give rise to legitimate environmental justice claims. But it is also possible – and likely – that many activities an individual or group may personally object to do not give rise to legitimate assertions of infringement of environmental justice.
While the Administration has made a clear expression of its policy stand for enhancement of the principle of environmental justice in response to climate change, what has been far less clear to us is the governing criteria that will be applied in assessing and differentiating among those enterprises and activities that constitute an infringement of environmental justice and those that do not. Without clearer guidance, farm families attempting to make even modest changes to their farming or land use practices can be constantly and unfairly placed under a cloud of governmental and political scrutiny from illegitimate claims of environmental justice. We think it is very important for the governing criteria for analysis, application and determination of environmental justice be made much clearer and specific than they appear to be now, so that legitimate and illegitimate claims of environmental justice can be more clearly distinguished.
We again thank you for the opportunity to share with you our views in this matter.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
By: John J. Bell
Environmental Issues Counsel