Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack denied Thursday that President Joe Biden’s goal of conserving 30% of the nation’s land by 2030 is a “land grab” but is instead intended to protect “private, working lands" through voluntary programs.
Vilsack said the Department of Agriculture is soliciting input from commodity groups and others on how best to meet the goal, which was laid out in an executive order in January. That input “will give us the ability to understand how best to structure this, but I can assure you this: There’s no intention to have a land grab,” Vilsack told reporters.
“There’s no intention to take something away from folks.”
The 30x30 goal, which is part of Biden’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has raised alarms in many parts of the country.
Biden on Thursday announced that the United States was committing to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels. Biden is not setting specific reduction goals for agriculture or other sectors of the economy.
But Vilsack said that USDA's decision to try to add 4 million acres to the Conservation Reserve Program was in line with the goal. To coax landowners to enroll acreage in CRP, USDA is increasing payment rates and other financial incentives. The department also is making a one-time 10% “inflationary” increase in payment rates for all contracts.
The 30x30 goal is “really designed to figure out creative and innovative ways to encourage folks to participate in (conservation efforts), as many farmers and ranchers are already doing, and may very well be inclined to do more if the right set of incentives are in place,” Vilsack said.
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa asserted in an interview with Agri-Pulse Thursday that the administration could expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to meet the 30x30 goal.
The administration is expected to try to narrow a Trump-era rule that reduced the number of wetlands and other features regulated by the antipollution law as “waters of the United States.” The Trump rule replaced an Obama-era version that expanded federal jurisdiction.
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“The Biden-Harris administration seems to be so much more radical when it comes to climate change (and) when it comes to rules and regulation and government intervention,” Ernst told Agri-Pulse.
The 30x30 issue also came up in a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Thursday for Jewel Bronaugh, Biden's nominee as deputy agriculture secretary.
As did Vilsack, Bronaugh emphasized the importance of doing conservation work on land that is in agricultural production. “We will continue to determine how we can utilize working lands as an integral part of addressing 30x30 goals and challenges," she said.
But she stopped short of denying that the federal government might seek to acquire more land. Asked about that possibility by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., she said that "there will be a lot more opportunities to make decisions about how we move forward.”
Thune said the federal government can’t maintain the land it has and shouldn’t be purchasing more.
Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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