By Karen Budd Falen, guest columnist
Karen Budd-Falen is an attorney in Cheyenne, Wyoming and former Deputy Solicitor for Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior.
I remember my dad saying, “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” But before we get to the history lesson, consider this:
• Under the 30 X 30 Plan, President Biden wants to add an additional 440 million acres to the 67 million acres of land managed in its “natural state” to preserve biodiversity and combat climate change. The federal government owns 563 million acres already, but the Biden Administration says only 12% of that land is managed in its “natural state” to protect us from the climate crisis.
• According to the Environmental Protection Agency, between livestock and crops, agriculture accounts for about 10.5% of all U.S. climate change emissions.
• The Biden Administration’s goal is to have net zero global emissions by mid-century.
• By 2030, the world’s human population will increase to 8.5 billion people.
• To feed all those people, the world needs farmers and ranchers. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average American farm feeds 166 people, but with the increase in the world’s population, the world’s farmers will have to grow 70% more food than they did in 2019.
Now for the history lesson, anyone of driving age in 1974—or who had a father who loudly complained when driving I-80 across Wyoming—remembers the 55 miles per hour speed limit. That was a time, based on the 1973 Arab Oil Crisis, that Congress mandated that States should “voluntarily” reduce their speed limits to 55 mph to lower gasoline consumption because the U.S. was not energy independent.
The catch was that the receipt of federal highway funds was tied to the “voluntary” speed limit reduction. In other words, if a state reduced its speed limit to 55 mph, it would receive its share of federal highway funds; if a state didn’t comply, no federal highway funds would come its way.
Most states complied and the few that didn’t, quickly took “voluntary” action once the checks stopped coming. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Congress can constitutionally use the power of the purse to “influence” decisions that are normally reserved to the States.
So why reminisce about the 55-mph speed limit when talking about Biden’s 30 X 30 Plan? It is because I worry about Biden’s requirement to “voluntarily” reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint by “us[ing] Department of Agriculture programs, funding, and financing capabilities, and other authorities, . . . to encourage voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices.” Sec. 216 (b)(i).
This Administration is already making progress on its climate change goals. First, it has cancelled its federal oil and gas lease sales mandated under the Mineral Leasing Act, on the theory that perhaps wind and solar can replace oil, gas and coal as our energy source. I have not found a lot of affordable commercial all-electric tractors that could be used on farming or ranching operations today.
Second, the Department of Agriculture has just significantly increased its “payment rates and financial incentives” to convince landowners to enroll additional acres into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). While landowners have to right to do with their land what they want, I worry about paying agriculturalists not to produce.
Third, there are those advocating that USDA use its other “financial tools” such as federal crop insurance programs, farm payment programs and increasing collaboration with federally backed agriculture lenders to encourage “voluntary” climate smart agriculture (CSA).
There are plusses and minuses with all CSA, but the landowner needs to be able to consider those without the federal government tipping the scales by “voluntarily” withholding certain payments or getting between a landowner and his ag lender if the landowner does not pick the program chosen by the federal government.
And I also wonder this? How are farmers and ranchers going to feed 8.5 billion people in 2030 if there is no American oil and gas for tractors, we are paying landowners not-to-produce or produce less, and multiple use on federal lands is curtailed or eliminated to reach the 30 X 30 Plan goals? And what I am really warning is that the history of the federal government’s “voluntary” 55 mph speed limit NOT be repeated today.