Brown: Retool ag for energy changes PDF Print E-mail
Written by By WILL MALONE Sentinel Staff Writer   
Friday, 14 August 2009 10:06

PERRYSBURG - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown swung through the region Thursday to discuss how the state's agriculture industry will fit into new legislation that seeks to combat the effects of climate change by offering clean energy incentives and allowing the trade of emission reductions.
About 60 agriculture producers, industry officials and local residents met at Owens Community College for one of Brown's (D-Ohio) ongoing roundtable events in communities around the state as part an effort to involve local leaders in efforts to rebuild the country's middle class. The visit from Brown - who serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension and the Agriculture and Nutrition committees - coincides with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Securities Act in the U.S. House of Representatives last month.
The Agriculture and Clean Energy Summit, organized by the American Farmland Trust and the Ohio Corn Growers Association, facilitated a conversation about how - as climate change legislation proceeds into the U.S. Senate - agricultural producers and congress can work together to help the region achieve its potential as the nation's most innovative leader in clean and alternative energy.

"Ohio is on the precipice of becoming the Silicon Valley of clean energy," Brown said. "We've come a long way in this state in the last few years in moving towards that goal."
He noted that the Toledo area contained more solar jobs than any other region in the country and pointed to efforts in Cleveland, Marysville and Dayton - where those communities respectively are installing one of the world's first wind turbine fields near a fresh water shore and harnessing new technologies to convert algae into plastics as well as create materials lighter and stronger than fiberglass for a variety of applications.
The state is also known for its significant contribution to the U.S. auto industry. Proposed legislation will help auto suppliers transition into alternative energy manufacturing, he said.
"If you can make glass for trucks, you can make glass for solar panels," he said.
Historically, he said, agriculture has been one of the most innovative industries in the nation. While often regarded as conservative, he said, farmers often take the lead on new ideas and technologies "because they often understand what needs to be done" to produce more goods.
To assist the industry in efforts to use clean energy and reduce pollution, Brown said the United States Department of Agriculture has made broadband access a priority for rural areas where the cost to establish connectivity currently is prohibitive. Redressing this issue will become important, he said, as farmers are asked to find new environmentally-friendly ways to run their operations.
The House's climate change bill, also known as the cap-and-trade bill, affects farmers directly since they depend on a stable climate for reliable production of goods, said William Hohenstein, director of the USDA Global Change Program Office.
"Climate change is going to have an effect within the U.S.," Hohenstein said. "We're already committed to a certain amount of climate change over the next century, and the effects are going to be disproportionate around the country" with some farmers experiencing longer growing seasons and other likely seeing drier and hotter climates. He said, across the country, the industry will notice more extreme climate events as well as other uncertainties.
The agriculture industry contributes about 6 percent of greenhouse gases compared to about 80 percent from energy manufacturers within the United States, according to the USDA.
The climate bill encourages operations to reduce gas emissions by offering incentives and allowing the trade of those responsibilities and "makes it a level playing field," he said. The legislation seeks to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020.
However, he acknowledged that the bill includes some issues that complicate the bill's intent to reward responsible practices and to reduce emissions. For example, the House bill allows farmers who adopted clean practices as early as 2000 to take advantage retroactively of offset incentives but he said Congress will need to avoid only awarding new efforts to reduce emissions.
Monica Cordes, of Waterville, wanted to know whether the bill would pass increased costs - from company's which will end up paying more to reduce emissions - down to regular consumers.
Marsha Chestnutwood, a bus driver in the Anthony Wayne School District, said she worried about the effect increased fuel prices on taxpayers.
Hohenstein said fuel prices would increase modestly, less than the price reached during last year's volatile market, and that corn growers for example would be able to make a net profit from offset incentives.
"If we're going to reduce emissions, there are going to be costs associated with it," Hohenstein said. "I think the question is how do you structure that policy in as an efficient a way as possible," he said, adding that "the alternative is doing nothing."


Brown supports health reform
PERRYSBURG - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown supports health care reform that would allow people to keep their current plans and provide others with more options to gain affordable coverage.
The Democratic senator from Ohio spoke to media before his Agriculture and Clean Energy Summit Thursday about the plan's intentions and the "outrageous" claims being made about America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. He had just hosted a health care roundtable at Ohio State University where he said discussion was sometimes "contentious" although "people were respectful of one another's views."
"People here have been civil," he said. "They have had constructive things to say."
Brown acknowledged that some people have some "very serious questions" about the bill but that others have been misled by what he described as a campaign of misinformation by the insurance industry.
"If 40 years ago these insurance lobbyists were as sophisticated and as well funded today as they are in Washington, we probably wouldn't - Congress probably wouldn't - have passed Medicare," he said.
Specifically, he said charges that the bill would compel people to have end-of-life consultations and invocation of language such as the phrase "death panels" was meant to unjustly incite fear.
"When people don't know the truth, fear really does work," he said.
Brown said the legislation would increase competition to reduce insurance premiums, provide more options, would prevent discrimination based on age or pre-existing health conditions, and would assist small businesses.
The bill protects current coverage and includes provisions for affordability, controlling costs and the distribution of responsibility among individuals, the government and insurers, according to a summary prepared by the Committees on Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor.
Brown said the bill could be passed responsibly without overburdening the national budget.
However, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) is not sold on the plan. And, according to Latta, neither are his Republican colleagues.
Latta said, despite the committees' reports on the bill, it is not clear whether people would be able to keep their current plans and that the bill was rushed through committees.
He said Republicans so far have been shut out of the process.
"What we're saying is this: We'd like to be at the table, and we have not been at the table at all," he said.
Latta also opposes the cap-and-trade bill that Brown supports. He said factories in the region which are "hanging on by their fingernails" could not withstand any additional costs associated with buying required emission reductions and then passing those costs down to consumers.
"They can't afford any more increases, and if you want to destroy manufacturing in the state of Ohio, let the United States Senate pass this bill and we're done," Latta said.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 August 2009 11:26

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