Despite overall Republican resistance to the Biden administration’s environmental efforts, Indiana’s two U.S. senators have worked with Democrats to introduce federal legislation seeking to boost the nation’s economy and technology while helping reduce climate change impacts.
Sens. Mike Braun and Todd Young, along with Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, spoke to the Nature Conservancy in Indiana about several bipartisan bills they introduced to Congress that would establish the foundation for a carbon market, increase outreach from land grant universities, and encourage “green hydrogen production” and research technology that would prevent man-made disasters, like climate change.
The senators said opinions on climate change have altered during their time in office, and Hoosiers want to address climate change in an economically viable way.
“When I first began serving in elective office, I heard more skepticism about the origins of climate change, about whether or not it was happening or and so forth. And there's a lot less of that right now,” said Young. “I think most Hoosiers believe that we should have a scientific and economic response to addressing the concerns of climate change. We should act, but we should act in a manner consistent with science and with good economics.”
A recent survey from Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute found a majority of Hoosiers, regardless of party affiliation, reported believing climate change was happening now and is at least partly caused by human activity.
Since the mid-20th century, scientists have tracked and documented an “unprecedented” change in the earth’s climate. Average annual temperatures and precipitation rates have risen across the country, including in Indiana.
Climate change has altered norms, resulting in increased extreme weather events, and has affected agricultural production and many other measurable and costly effects to human health and the environment.
According to a vast majority of scientists, the only factors that can account for the long-term warming trend over the last century are emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, from human activities. Without those emissions, the earth would actually be on a slight cooling trend.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
Braun said that U.S. farmers have a carbon footprint nearly 60% lower than farmers in the rest of the world, but still have room to improve.
Braun, Young and Hollingsworth said legislation that will help combat climate change must include farmers, who, they say, have been on the front line for decades.
“Frequently in D.C., it sounds like it's farmers that are standing in the way of progress with regard to climate. But that is not what I see back home, in-district. I continue to hear from farmers across the district that want to be a part of the solution, that recognize that there's a problem, that recognize that they had been doing this for the last 70 years — being stewards of their land and being stewards of the next generation that might have that land,” said Hollingsworth, the third-term Republican representing Indiana’s 9th Congressional district.
Agriculture is at the core of the legislation presented by the three Indiana lawmakers.
GROWING CLIMATE SOLUTIONS ACT
Braun’s Growing Climate Solutions Act seeks to create new resources at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would kickstart the carbon market industry.
A carbon credit market allows companies to offset the amount of greenhouse gases they emit by purchasing carbon credits, a certificate worth a certain amount of carbon dioxide emissions.
Farmers, ranchers and foresters can generate carbon credits to trade by using environmentally sustainable farming practices that will retain greenhouse gases.
Several marketplaces already exist for farmers to sell carbon credits, but all have different standards to assess the amount of carbon dioxide a parcel of land can store, and other differences that can make entering a carbon market difficult for farmers.
“The carbon market is essentially the wild, wild west,” said Bob White, director of national government relations for the American Farm Bureau. “Because each one of those different private companies has a different certification system, a different type of management, you're going to have to do other things in order to enter their space. [Farmers are] not going to buy into it right away. The reliability of the market isn't there now.”
Braun’s bill would establish a USDA certification and certification process for the carbon market industry, organize an advisory council and establish other features that would try to build trust in the market.
The bill was originally introduced by Braun in June 2020 and had bipartisan backing but was put on the backburner as the Republican-led Senate rushed to confirm Trump administration nominations, including Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, before the 2020 presidential election.
Braun reintroduced the bill in April, and the bill is now cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 48 senators.
He said farmers are excited about the bill.
“[Farmers] are looking at a business that's gotten riskier and riskier, higher altitude in terms of the costs of doing business. Corn and soybeans, in just 15 years, probably cost two and a half to three times as much to actually put out their variable inputs per acre. And the bottom line is, until just last year, there had not been a real profit in the market since 2013,” Braun said. “So, they're aware of that. They know that they lead, and they're really starving for anything that's going to help add a little bit of a cushion to their difficult bottom line year after year. That’s an alleluia for a normal year that'll either take their loss to a breakeven or maybe make money where they wouldn't have otherwise.”
CONSERVATION AND INNOVATIVE CLIMATE PARTNERSHIP ACT
The Conservation and Innovative Climate Partnership Act, sponsored by Young and Minnesota Democrat Sen. Tina Smith, would strengthen support to land grant university extension services so they can reach out to more farmers and teach them about conservation and innovative climate practices.
“The Conservation and Innovative Climate Partnership Act is going to support Hoosier farmers and others across this country looking to adopt innovative climate practice practices on their farms by giving them access to the latest tools and research so that they can be successful,” said Young. “The bill will help increase the voluntary adoption of conservation practices, knowing that some farmers are apprehensive about adopting these conservation practices.”
The bill would help land grant universities like Purdue University teach farmers of all experience levels tried-and-true techniques like crop rotation, integrated livestock-crop systems and other techniques to increase farm sustainability and also introduce climate-friendly practices like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil health improvement and carbon sequestration.
“We're fortunate in Indiana to have a really good extension program run through Purdue, and only a small fraction of that is able to focus on climate change and energy issues at this point,” said Prof. Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. “It's a place where there's a lot of need for this information right now to get out to the communities, and there are internal conversations within Purdue about how to make that happen.”
The bill’s allocated $13 million could benefit up to 32 extension programs nationwide.
HYDROGEN UTILIZATION AND SUSTAINABILITY ACT
The Hydrogen Utilization and Sustainability Act, sponsored by Young and Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, would expand the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit to include green hydrogen, an energy alternative to conventional fossil fuels whose only byproduct is water.
“Hydrogen is a very dense, good energy carrier, and so it can be used for economic activities that are difficult to decarbonize like airplanes, long-distance trucking, heavy-duty trucking and things like that,” Drew Shindell, professor of earth science at Duke University told the Indiana Environmental Reporter. “So, I tend to think of it as primarily useful for CO2 emitting sectors that are really challenging to electrify.”
The tax credit could help boost burgeoning green hydrogen projects in Indiana like the Wabash Valley Resources, LLC green hydrogen and ammonia plant in Vigo County and future green hydrogen engines being developed by Columbus-based Cummins Corp.
ENDLESS FRONTIER ACT
The Endless Frontier Act, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Young, would narrow the focus of the National Science Foundation to include several technology areas, one of which is natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation.
In other words, the bill would task the NSF with, among other things, researching how to prevent or lessen the effect of man-made disasters like climate change.
“Recognizing the global nature of the challenge, I think we need to work with partner and allied countries all around the world to develop the next generation of science and technology to improve our modular nuclear reactors and the multitude of other energy-saving technologies, energy-producing technologies and energy storage technologies that can help sustainably address this issue while still ensuring that we can all be prosperous,” Young said.
The bill has passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and will soon be considered by the full Senate.