Washington Weekly: May 4, 2022

Washington Weekly: May 4, 2022

This Week’s Headlines

  • SCOTUS Leak: A draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito indicating that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade – the landmark decision that protects pregnant women’s right to choose to have an abortion – was obtained by Politico early Tuesday morning. Although the Court has not yet officially ruled in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, such a decision would fly in the face of 50 years of precedent and open the door for similar legal rulings striking down environmental legislation, like the Clean Water Act. 

  • Save the Whales: A new study indicates ocean animals face the threat of mass extinction due to the accelerating global impacts of the climate crisis. If substantive action is not taken and global temperatures continue to rise, a mass extinction event in our oceans would have incredibly dire consequences for the Earth, its ecosystems, and human beings everywhere. 

  • Big Oil Gonna Big Oil: Despite taking “big” losses after withdrawing from Russia, ExxonMobil reported doubling its profits in 2022 and will triple buybacks, while Chevron has tripled its profits to the highest levels since 2012. The record-setting profits of big fossil fuel companies is yet another example of the global addiction to fossil fuels and shows the importance of implementing a windfall profits tax for the fossil fuel industry to curb war profiteering from the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

A Deeper Dive

If Family Feud asked contestants to name the biggest global sources of greenhouse gas emissions based on different sectors of the economy, host Steve Harvey would probably reveal “electricity” as the number one answer. And electricity generation would be a good guess – it is in fact the number one source of emissions. But there is another source that has almost the same footprint as electricity but that would probably show up much farther down the Family Feud board – agriculture.

How we produce our food has a huge impact on climate change, and shows that we need agricultural solutions at the center of climate action. What is especially exciting about this work is that we have the potential to change agriculture and land use from a source creating a quarter of all emissions to a sector that could act as a carbon “sink” – we could actually store a significant amount of carbon in grass, trees, soil, and land-based ecosystems.

Regenerative agriculture is the term to describe this new frontier in agriculture – different practices (such as no-till, cover crops, crop diversity) that can actually help reverse climate change. It’s not just an opportunity for climate change – regenerative agriculture would benefit our health, combat the “Great Extinction,” protect our water, and much more.

However, reversing trends related to factory farms, meat consumption, pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer use, and food waste (to name a few) presents daunting challenges. We need strong policies to rapidly incentivize changes in conservation and management to transition from a system that currently favors industrial agriculture and the status quo in general. 

In the meantime, we need to make sure that people can get the nutrition they need, that food prices stay affordable, and farmers are able to weather (no pun intended) volatile markets and the impacts of a rapidly changing climate. As usual, we need our elected decision makers to step up to the plate.

The biggest vehicle for policy changes is in the Farm Bill – the massive piece of legislation that authorizes both agriculture programs (like crop insurance) and nutrition programs (like the important Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). The Farm Bill needs to be renewed every 5 years, and we expect the next Farm Bill to be compiled over the next year or so and theoretically enacted in 2023. 

Here in Michigan we have an incredible opportunity to influence the Farm Bill. Michigan is a critical agricultural state (home to the second most diverse agricultural industry in the country next to California) and our own Senator Debbie Stabenow is the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry. Senator Stabenow is a proven legislator that has brokered bipartisan deals (in both the majority and minority) to be able to get the Farm Bill done in very partisan, divided times. She is also a huge advocate for the Conservation title of the Farm bill, which provides the investment and policy changes to make sure farmers, foresters, and communities can implement new practices that will help protect land, air, water, wildlife habitat and public health. Plus she has made climate change an intense focus over recent years, and is looking at creative solutions for agriculture to be part of the answer to reducing greenhouse emissions (she outlined some of these priorities in a webinar we partnered on last summer).

All of that sounds great, but Farm Bill policies over the years are major drivers for increasing GHG footprint, water pollution, chemical burdens, income inequalities, and taxpayer waste. It’s always such a behemoth of a bill that it is near impossible to do a complete overhaul – programs and stakeholders are entrenched. Despite that overwhelming challenge, there is a real chance to build on conservation successes in the past with new policies that haven’t been attempted and doubling down on tried-and-true practices. 

Senator Stabenow and the Agriculture Committee have begun the public process to get input and ideas about what to prioritize in the next Farm Bill. They started right here in Michigan, holding a field hearing last Friday in East Lansing where a wide variety of stakeholders gave testimony on their priorities. 

One witness, Juliette King-McAvoy of King Orchards (a leader in the Great Lakes Business Network and recipient of Michigan LCV’s “Business Leader of the Year” in 2019) gave compelling testimony of the critical role that climate change plays for the cherry business and how the next Farm Bill must put climate change at the center. Senator Stabenow herself acknowledged the climate crisis as it relates to agriculture and how Lake Superior is now one of the five fastest-warming lakes in the world.

It’s time for anyone that cares about our food systems, environment, health, and climate change to get involved and get in the game. There will be future public meetings and hearings – we will keep you updated on future opportunities and how the Farm Bill is playing out in Congress.

The Michigan LCV Difference

Michigan LCV joined an effort spearheaded by the Sierra Club and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in submitting public comments to the EPA regarding ozone pollution containment. The EPA had proposed declaring Detroit within attainment for safe ozone levels determined by the National Ambient Air Quality Standard. The EPA’s assessment was based on levels measured between 2019 and 2021 but failed to show if those levels would be maintained as the economy recovers from the pandemic. Furthermore the Michigan maintenance plan is insufficient in reducing pollution should ozone levels go beyond safe standards.

Check out an interactive map here from ProPublica to see where cancer causing industrial sources are in Michigan (John Oliver drew on some of the ProPublica research for a recent “Last Week Tonight” segment on Environmental Racism).

One potential solution to pollution is the Environmental Justice for All Act. Proposed by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee. This bill would utilize civil rights clauses to protect impacted communities. This Friday, Michigan LCV will join a tour hosted by the office of Rep. Rashida Tlaib as Chairman Grijalva visits environmental justice sites in the Detroit area.

Tune into a public input forum via zoom this Saturday at 11:00am to give feedback to the House Natural Resources Committee on his bill and how your community is impacted by environmental injustice. Hear from Chairman Grijalva, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Donald McEachin and Senator Tammy Duckworth on what this bill would mean for Michigan.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

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