A Soil Carbon Bank for Farmers, and Why it Matters

The Lempert Report
December 02, 2020

Just a couple weeks ago we had our first look at how the Biden administration feels about climate change.

A series of policy memos were released and written by the Climate 21 Project, which is co-chaired by Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of President Obama’s environmental quality council, and Tim Profeta, the director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University.

In a series of 12 “transition memos,” the group calls for dozens of actions that Cabinet departments and offices could take in the Biden administration’s first 100 days, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Treasury Department. It includes a 21-page memo on steps that might be taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Although USDA has not “received the sustained political attention of other agencies that play a role in climate policy,” its “national footprint, broad loan and grantmaking authority, and unrivaled ability to influence decision-making in rural American should make it a lynchpin of the next administration’s climate strategy,” the memo states.

It goes on to say that USDA should also use the government-owned Commodity Credit Corporation to create a federal “carbon bank” that would offer credits for the carbon sequestered by sustainable management practices. It suggests allocating $1 billion to purchase carbon credits at $20 per ton, which could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 megatons every year.

After a one-year pilot, the memo suggests the administration should build support among House and Senate agriculture committees and appropriators, in order to eventually pass legislation that would allow the USDA to sell those purchased credits into a national carbon market. Some of the biggest companies in food and farm, like Bayer, McDonald’s, Danone, and Nestle, have launched marketplaces that pay farmers for the carbon sequestered in their soils.