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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Climate Change Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled “Farmers and Foresters: Opportunities to Lead in Tackling Climate Change.” Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order. This is the first hearing for our new members Senators Booker, Luján, Warnock, Marshall, and Tuberville. Welcome to the Committee and I look forward to working with you all. And it goes without saying that I am excited to partner with Senator Boozman in his new capacity as Ranking Member.  

I’m so pleased to be holding our first policy hearing this Congress on the climate crisis, a topic that is critical to the future of every farmer, rancher, and forester in this country.

Just ask the Michigan cherry growers, who experienced an unseasonably warm spring followed by a late freeze that destroyed their entire crop in 2012. Or the foresters and communities out west, who spent years growing trees and building their outdoor recreation economies, only to watch those potential dollars go up in flames from worsening wildfires. Or the countless farmers in the Southeast who have seen their fields ripped apart by destructive hurricanes.

The climate crisis might seem insurmountable, but our farmers and foresters are an important part of the solution. Right now, sustainable practices on farms and forests are helping producers cut down on their emissions and pull carbon out of the air and store it in the soil, roots, and trees.

The foundation of this vision is the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act. I introduced this commonsense legislation with my friend and fellow Committee member Senator Braun to establish a structure at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers and foresters implement climate-smart practices and tap into new economic opportunities. Our legislation enables producers to build new streams of income through innovative carbon markets. Many farmers are interested in this opportunity but don’t know how to get started, which is understandable.

While the potential of carbon markets is very promising, I want to acknowledge that they aren’t going to work for everyone. But that doesn’t mean farmers can’t embrace climate-smart farming and still benefit.

Whether it’s a corn and soybean grower planting cover crops after harvest, or a dairy farmer installing solar panels on the roof of their barn, or a forester managing their land to grow more mature trees that hold more carbon – these climate-smart steps are good for the planet and good for business. Healthier, carbon-rich soil means lower fertilizer costs. Renewable energy helps lower utility bills. And thinning out smaller trees can help the big trees grow bigger, providing a revenue opportunity for the family forest owner.

These approaches are working. They make sense. And now it’s time to dramatically scale up this work through policies that are voluntary, producer-led, and bipartisan.

To do that, we need strong coalitions. The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, made up of nearly 60 leading organizations, is one of them. Today, we’ll hear from producers representing five of the organizations: the American Farm Bureau, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Farmers Union, and USA Rice.

However, the conversation doesn’t end here. We want to hear perspectives from every part of the agriculture and forestry economy – small and large operations, row crops and specialty crops, conventional and organic farms, biofuel producers, and other drivers of the biobased economy. We also need to bring the research community, land grant universities, and other perspectives into this dialog. Grassroots organizations focused on equity and frontline communities are vital to this discussion, and we’ll continue to engage with them.

Additionally, trees and forests have the ability to store hundreds of millions of tons of carbon, a reality recognized by another impressive coalition in this space called the Forest-Climate Working Group. That’s why I have two bipartisan forestry climate bills, one with Senator Portman and another with Senator Braun, that support responsible tree planting and climate-smart forest management as tools to address the climate crisis. I look forward to reintroducing both of those in the coming weeks and moving them forward.

In advance of this hearing, we’ve received a number of supportive letters and statements from important stakeholders, which I now request be added to the record without objection. Right now, everyone in agriculture and forestry should make their voices heard because now is the time to act. We can’t afford to wait any longer.