U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today testified to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the role that rural America can play in addressing climate change. Secretary Vilsack discussed the importance of engaging farmers and ranchers in crafting the solution to this critical issue. Below are excerpts from Secretary Vilsack’s prepared testimony:

“Climate change is one of the great challenges facing the United States and the world. The science is clear that the planet is already warming. While climate change will affect us all, there are particular vulnerabilities and challenges for farmers, ranchers, and those who make a living off the land.

“I believe it is crucial that we engage the participation of farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. This issue is too important for agriculture and forestry to sit on the sidelines. A viable carbon offsets market — one that rewards farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for stewardship activities — has the potential to play a very important role in helping America wean itself from foreign oil. It also represents a significant building block to revitalizing rural America. Landowners can also play an important role in providing low-carbon renewable energy.

“There are significant opportunities for rural landowners in a cap-and-trade program that recognizes the contribution that farms, ranches and forests can make in addressing climate change. Rural landowners can benefit from incentives in climate and energy legislation that reward production of renewable energy such as wind and bioenergy. A number of renewable energy technologies such as anaerobic digesters, geothermal, and wind power can reduce farmers’ reliance on fossil fuels. In cooperation with the Department of Energy, USDA will contribute to promoting these technologies and our outreach and Extension networks will need to help make them available to farmers, ranchers and land managers.

“These technologies and promotion of a clean energy economy will also stimulate the creation of new jobs. As farmers, ranchers and land managers look to install an anaerobic digester or build a wind farm, people will be needed to build the machines and install the systems. And, because many of these technologies will be utilized in rural areas, many of these jobs could be created in rural America. These farmers, ranchers and forest owners can also benefit from legislation that creates markets for greenhouse gas offset credits.

“To produce meaningful emissions reductions, an offsets program will likely require the participation of thousands of landowners. I believe USDA, working with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the Department of Energy, the Department of [the] Interior, and other relevant agencies can play a very important role in getting offsets to scale while ensuring the integrity of the offsets program. We look forward to partnering with our fellow agencies to work with the Senate in designing a credible offsets program.

“It is important that agriculture and forestry offsets have high standards of environmental integrity. Quantification and reporting systems need to be rigorous, verifiable and transparent — and review and auditing systems will need to be in place. Uncertainties must be accounted for and reduced. Greenhouse gas benefits accrued through carbon sequestration will need to be monitored over time to ensure that the benefits are maintained and that reversals are accounted for if they occur. If these principles are followed, the resulting offsets should be real, additional, verifiable and lasting.”