Vilsack Admits Climate Model Predicts Too Many Trees

December 18, 2009 Bookmark and Share

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made news in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Washington, D.C., this week when he seemed to acknowledge flaws in his Department’s analysis of climate change legislation’s effects.

Talking in Copenhagen at a summit of world leaders charged with coming to an agreement on the issue of global warming mitigation, Vilsack said other, “more current” studies, like that done by the University of Tennessee, might be better predictors of land-use changes under a cap-and-trade program than USDA analysis.

The official USDA analysis says 59 million acres of pasture and cropland could become forest under a cap-and-trade protocol. Many in the agriculture industry have questioned this figure and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) model upon which the USDA analysis is based.

Vilsack released a clarifying statement on Friday, saying that, based on conversations with USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber and other staff, he doesn’t “believe the results related to afforestation forecast by the [model] are necessarily an accurate depiction of the impacts of climate legislation. The model could be updated to better reflect current legislative proposals.”

On Thursday, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) asked Vilsack to have USDA consult with EPA on problems with the economic model and report back to their Committees. Vilsack said in his Friday statement that he had directed staff to work with EPA to review the model assumptions and update it as needed.

A stream of more official announcements also came out of the Department of Agriculture during the summit.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at a keynote event about creating opportunities for rural economies with clean energy investments. Later, USDA announced an agreement with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2010 through the promotion of anaerobic digesters and research.

On Wednesday, Vilsack participated in the announcement of an international research effort on climate change, and USDA announced the U.S. would contribute $1 billion to a $3.5 billion international fund aimed at reversing deforestation in developing counties.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. would lead an effort to establish a $100 billion per year climate aid fund for developing countries by the year 2020.

The summit was set to end Friday, but, as of press time, negotiations continued with no announcements about a binding accord.