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Some lawmakers aim to include measures to curb climate change in farm bill

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Every five years, Congress has to reauthorize the Farm Bill. That's a piece of legislation that governs things such as food stamps and farm subsidies. This year, some lawmakers are hoping to include measures to curb climate change. This comes as the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture show that about 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. comes from - yeah, you guessed it - agriculture. Here's NPR's Ximena Bustillo.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Jonathan Godes, the mayor of Glenwood Springs, Colo., has a go-bag at his front door. His wife and two daughters each have one, too. That's because he's had to evacuate three times in 15 years due to wildfires in the region.

JONATHAN GODES: Any time there's a dry summer, you're sitting on your deck, and you see a little plume of smoke come up, and you go, gosh, is that a cloud? Is that a fire somewhere? How close is it?

BUSTILLO: In 2020, the Grizzly Creek Fire burned 30,000 acres and shut down Interstate 70, a major highway cutting across the state. The next summer, the town was hit again, this time by flooding. Because the fire had burned trees, brush and ground cover, the ground wasn't able to absorb the water, and Interstate 70 was washed out. Godes and his family rode out the storm.

GODES: It was a huge impact for us locally, for the region. And, really, the country even, when you take out a transportation route like that. And, obviously, we're seeing more and more of those events.

BUSTILLO: Now he's been working with his members of Congress to include funding for disaster recovery in the next Farm Bill. Across the American West, farmers, foresters and mayors are turning to Congress for money to prevent and recover from climate disasters. The Farm Bill has long authorized conservation programs. They help implement different ways of farming to improve soil health and reduce emissions. It also supports the U.S. Forest Service and funding for forest management. This year, lawmakers are considering ways to improve relief programs. Proponents want to increase public awareness about the programs and help farmers apply for them.

Historically, the Republican Party has resisted efforts to address climate change, but many GOP members also represent rural areas on the front lines of climate disasters. Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, says more Republicans may now be open to the conversation.

CATHY DAY: It definitely changed in terms of what individual offices are willing to talk about, but there are also some very strong political lines that get drawn around what solutions ought to look like. And so that continues to make it an often complex conversation.

BUSTILLO: Last year, Democrats secured a record $20 billion to expand conservation programs. But some Republicans have proposed repealing those funds and allocating them to programs not related to climate. Other Democrats have their own plans in mind for this year's Farm Bill. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado is pushing to include $60 billion to restore and manage forests.

MICHAEL BENNET: The current situation that we have is completely untenable because we're spending 30 times more to recover from severe wildfires after the burn than we do to prevent wildfires in the first place.

BUSTILLO: He says there's a connection between the health of forests in the West and local economies, and he hopes that agriculture panels continue the conversation.

BENNET: Almost every single farmer and rancher in every single farming and ranching community in the West is downstream from the forests that we're talking about here. I can't think of a more appropriate place to have this discussion.

BUSTILLO: Lawmakers have until September 30 to write the 2023 Farm Bill.

Ximena Bustillo, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.