With FDR’s New Deal as Blueprint, Sen. Booker and Rep. Spanberger Re-Introduce Climate Change Bill Focused on Investing in Farm Conservation Programs, Reforestation, and Wetlands Restoration
Investments in farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through natural climate solutions are critical for inclusion in comprehensive climate change legislation this year
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) today reintroduced the Climate Stewardship Act, a climate change bill focused on voluntary farm and ranch conservation practices, massive reforestation, and wetlands restoration. Much like the environmental and economic challenges facing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, the country now faces two simultaneous crises: climate change and an economy weakened by COVID-19. The Climate Stewardship Act, inspired by measures implemented in FDR’s New Deal, can serve as a roadmap for investments in agriculture and nature-based climate solutions as Congress works to build out President Biden’s plan to create millions of jobs, rebuild America’s infrastructure, and mobilize the country to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. This bill is also cosponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The Climate Stewardship Act would support voluntary climate stewardship practices on more than 100 million acres of farmland, plant billions of trees to revive deforested landscapes and expand urban tree cover, reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps — one of the New Deal’s most popular programs, restore over two million acres of coastal wetlands, and invest in renewable energy for farmers and rural small businesses in the spirit of the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Act, which provided low-cost loans to help bring electricity to rural America.
In the wake of the 2018 dire United Nations report detailing the urgency and scale at which we must act to address the climate crisis and reach net zero emissions, this legislation provides nature-based solutions to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Federal greenhouse gas inventories show that currently our soils, forests, and wetlands sequester approximately 11 percent of all U.S. emissions, but the potential exists to substantially increase such sequestration by implementing the types of natural climate solutions included in this proposal — planting more trees, restoring wetlands, and greatly scaling up the adoption of farm and ranch conservation practices.
A recent report identified tree planting and ecosystem restoration as one of the most effective potential solutions to mitigating climate change. The trees planted by this bill have the potential to sequester billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
“In FDR’s New Deal, the federal government planted billions of trees, provided conservation incentives to family farmers and ranchers, created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and electrified rural America. In order to address the urgent and existential threat posed by climate change, we must have funding for all of these programs included in comprehensive climate change legislation this year,” said Senator Booker. “The Climate Stewardship Act is a critical investment to seriously engage farmers, ranchers and rural communities as part of the solution to climate change. This plan will create important new jobs, make farms more profitable and protect our ecosystem for years to come.”
“American agriculture can — and must — be a part of the solution in addressing the threat of climate change. In Central Virginia and across the country, I’ve seen firsthand how American farmers and producers use proven, voluntary conservation practices to care for their land and optimize their output. As Chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, I’m committed to finding new ways to support these efforts that both protect the health of our soil and benefit farmers’ bottom lines,” said Spanberger. “I’m proud to introduce the Climate Stewardship Act alongside Senators Booker and Gillibrand — because the dual crises of COVID-19 and climate change require innovative solutions to the major, urgent challenges they present. This legislation builds on the tremendous work farmers are already doing to build a healthier climate — and it makes sure our rural businesses and communities are not left behind as we work together to strengthen our economy in the wake of this pandemic.”
“Nature based solutions will be key to combatting the growing risks associated with climate change and this legislation will deliver bold investments in natural climate solutions to strengthen our environmental resilience and economy,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This legislation will empower farmers across the country to join conservation efforts, and create thousands of green jobs that will get Americans back to work. I’m proud to join this legislation with Senator Booker to combat the dual climate and economic crises.”
The 2018 National Climate Assessment details how farmers and ranchers are already being harmed by climate change, and outlines how rising temperatures and extreme weather could lead to substantial reductions in future crop yields in many regions of the country.
The Climate Stewardship Act will:
- Plant billions of trees on a combination of federal, state, local, tribal, and non-governmental lands.
- Plant over 100 million of these trees in urban neighborhoods across America, with the priority going to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. In addition to sequestering carbon, trees also absorb harmful air pollutants and reduce temperatures in urban areas.
- Support voluntary climate stewardship practices on over 100 million acres of farmland, reducing or off setting agricultural emissions by one-third by 2025, by:
- Providing tens of billions of dollars of supplemental funding for USDA working lands conservation programs, with new funding dedicated to stewardship practices such as rotational grazing, improved fertilizer efficiency, and planting tens of millions of new acres of cover crops.
- Enrolling 40 million acres of environmentally sensitive land in the Conservation Reserve Program to remove that land from production and instead plant species that will improve environmental health and carbon sequestration.
- More than doubling funding for agricultural research programs, including more funding for soil health demonstration trials.
- Tripling USDA funding to provide farmers with expert technical assistance on climate stewardship practices.
- Providing grant funding to tens of thousands of farmers, ranchers and rural businesses for renewable energy production, such as solar panels and wind turbines, and energy efficiency improvements.
- Invest in local and regional food systems to increase resilience in rural and urban communities.
- Restore or protect over 2 million acres of coastal wetlands by 2030 to sequester carbon emissions and reduce coastal flooding. Coastal wetlands act as an important sponge during extreme weather events with heavy rainfall. For example, although New Jersey has lost more than 40 percent of its coastal wetlands, the wetlands remaining helped prevent $625 million of property damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
- Reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide youth with skills and work experience in forestry and wetlands restoration, prioritizing young people from low-income communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color .
“I’m already seeing the effects of climate change on my farm,” said John Boyd, a Virginia Farmer and President of the National Black Farmers Association. “Smaller farmers like me are racing to make sure our farms are prepared to withstand the extreme weather caused by climate change. Many of the practices that make our farm more resilient also help reduce emissions and store carbon in the ground. We didn’t create the climate crisis, but we can help avert it.”
“The Climate Stewardship Act wisely looks to those people with the greatest potential to take care of our soil, water and climate: farmers,” said Farm Aid Communications Director Jennifer Fahy. “Investing in conservation programs that farmers already use but which are chronically underfunded and oversubscribed is a win-win. And when more farmers are able to adopt sustainable practices, we reap the additional benefit of increasing the resilience of farms, safeguarding our climate and our food system.”
Echoing the spirit of the New Deal, the Climate Stewardship Act would turn environmental restoration into economic recovery, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across our cities and rural communities”, said Jad Daley, CEO and President of American Forests. “We especially appreciate that with 100 million trees to be planted in urban areas by 2030, this vital legislation delivers an unprecedented push on Tree Equity for the socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods that are systematically lacking in trees all across America. That is a life-or-death matter today, because climate change is dramatically increasing heat-related illness and loss of life in these communities.
“A farmer’s number one business partner is the weather,” said Wes Shoemyer, Family Farm Action Board Member and Missouri Farmer. “Farmers know the climate is changing, and as stewards of the land and producers of our food, they need strong support to maintain these vital resources. The Climate Stewardship Act will give farmers a fighting chance to make an honest living and support them as they continue to feed this country. Farmers don’t need never-ending bailouts, they need smart policies like this one that will help them adapt and grow to meet the new challenges climate change is sending their way.”
“We applaud Senator Booker for his leadership on the Climate Stewardship Act,” said Michele Byers, Executive Director of NJ Conservation Foundation. “We need urgent action to address the climate crisis and natural solutions to store more carbon in our forests, wetlands and agricultural soils are an important part of the solution.”
“Farmers are already reeling from the effects of climate change,” said Colin O’Neil, Legislative Director of Environmental Working Group. “The investments proposed in the Climate Stewardship Act will not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming but will also help farmers better withstand the impacts of severe weather. We applaud Sen. Booker and Rep. Spanberger for their leadership.”
“We support these efforts to plant trees, conserve our resources and protect our environment knowing that more resources will enable more farmers to participate in these voluntary programs to make desirable environmental improvements on their farms,” said Pam Mount, Owner of Terhune Orchards, a fruit and vegetable farm in Princeton, New Jersey. “In the past we have been able to use such programs to the benefit of our farm business and the stewardship of the land we farm.”
“Businesses leaders are calling for the federal government to support a transition towards regenerative agriculture,” said David Levine, President, American Sustainable Business Council. “We applaud Senator Booker for the introduction of the Climate Stewardship Act as a huge step in that direction. Increasing consumer demand for products produced with regenerative and sustainable practices outstrips the current supply. The Climate Stewardship Act will assist farmers in adopting soil health and other regenerative practices that not only combat climate change but will improve farmer’s incomes and farmworker conditions, build more resilient supply chains, and help meet market demands, growing our economy.”