The incoming chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, says she’ll seek to use climate legislation to put more money into conservation programs that encourage growers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I certainly will advocate funding in these areas … to support what we want to do, and we can’t wait for the next farm bill in 2023,” the Michigan Democrat told reporters Thursday.

Because of the way congressional budget rules work, using a climate bill to expand funding for those programs during this Congress would increase the amount of money available, or “baseline,” for writing the next farm bill, which is due in 2023, she said. 

Passing sweeping climate legislation to promote renewable energy and other measures to combat climate change is a top priority for President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats. It’s not clear yet what form the legislation will take.

Democrats could use the budget reconciliation process, since a reconciliation bill would only require a simple majority for Senate passage. Biden's campaign proposals call for dramatically expanding the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers for practices that conserve soil, protect water quality and other improvements. The proposals were developed by Tom Vilsack, the former agriculture secretary Biden has nominated to head the department again. 

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Stabenow also indicated that she believes that the Agriculture Department has adequate legal authority to use the Commodity Credit Corp. to buy agricultural carbon credits, an idea of USDA’s chief climate adviser, Robert Bonnie.

Facilitating carbon markets is going to be a major priority for Stabenow, and she said the committee would move a bill, called the Growing Climate Solutions Act, to set up a structure at USDA to provide some oversight of carbon markets. USDA would, among other things, certify services that verify ag carbon credits.

“I believe that we can move that bill on a bipartisan basis, certainly to the floor, and then we will look at what the next steps are,” Stabenow said.

Stabenow has not yet taken over the committee as chairwoman because of the ongoing negotiations between Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., over an organizing resolution. The committee has been without a chairman since the last Congress ended and then-Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. retired.

But the committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing next Tuesday for  Vilsack in anticipation that the organizing resolution will be finished by then, Stabenow said. “We may have some technical difficulties” if the resolution isn’t official, she said.

She said the committee membership would be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, reflecting the 50-50 split of the Senate.

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