Biden leads with agriculture

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Joe Biden put forward a climate agenda this week that finally confronts the world’s most pressing issue and offers the Midwest a way forward after years of decline. Agriculture is at the center of the Democratic presidential nominee’s agenda, and Iowa will benefit as much as anyplace if we implement Biden’s $2 trillion plan.

Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture in the Obama Administration for eight years and former governor, is Biden’s coach on all things ag and rural. Vilsack told us Wednesday that Biden’s climate plan “starts with an understanding that agriculture is key to getting a handle on climate. We’ve got to use rural lands more effectively to get agriculture to net-zero carbon.”

Biden told me in January that he would at least triple the size of the Conservation Stewardship Program, cut in half in the last farm bill. The CSP funds farmers for conservation practices on working lands. Farmers will plant cover crops if they can realize a return. Corn grown will be converted to pasture if it pays better.

“The idea is that we can’t regulate our way to net-zero. We have to incent farmers to do what they want to do and know how to do. You do that through increased conservation payments. And, you recognize that society has got a stake here, and that foundations and corporations should invest in paying farmers to sequester carbon. We need to create a carbon market that actually works,” Vilsack told us.

The Biden plan calls for a “voluntary” carbon market that pays farmers for offsets. It’s at least a start. It won’t get us to the scale we need. But creating a carbon tax or fee if not massaged properly can turn into a political disaster. At some point we must tax carbon emissions to reduce their use and to help pay for sequestration through agriculture or mechanical methods.

Biden calls for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, the conversion of our transportation fleet to electric that will revive the Rust Belt, and heavy investment in the rollout of wind and solar with high-paying jobs. The campaign says 250,000 jobs can be created in rural America. That’s more than enough to take in every coal miner. Biden wants to create a Civilian Climate Corps to help with recreating conservation infrastructure like wetlands, protecting water and preserving natural areas. Most climate solutions require land and space, whether through solar arrays or grass plantings. A new energy economy only stands to benefit Iowa, the national leader in wind energy.

He would restore public research funding at our land grant universities that have been bought by the agrichemical industry, create new funding opportunities for livestock producers by capturing methane and pelletizing dried manure for fertilizer sales, and restore funding for livestock disease research.

President Trump considers the climate crisis a “hoax.” Enough said, as Pacific Junction was washed away by flooding.

Curious auditor’s report

State Auditor Rob Sand raises important questions in a review of the TestIowa program. Sand, a Democrat, reported this week that test results are sent from the state hygienic lab to a firm in Utah, which then relays the results to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Iowa law states that positive results must be sent immediately to IDPH, and not be routed through a private-sector intermediary.

Our first question is, “Why?” Nobody says why test results have to be routed through Utah companies that won a $26 million no-bid contract for testing from Gov. Kim Reynolds. Are test results filtered? Is data massaged? Or it is just meant to slow down what has been a slog of a testing regimen that does not deliver real-time, actionable results?

It is most interesting that Sand sent copies of his report to the sheriffs and prosecutors in Polk and Johnson counties, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. That suggests something is brewing within IDPH and the state hygienic laboratory in Iowa City. Further, Sand issued a statement rebutting earlier remarks by an assistant state attorney general defending the circuitous test results reporting chain.

We are eager to learn more. Iowa’s testing program was slow to start, created curiously, concealed results, and was controlled for the benefit of industry. For example, the meatpacking industry is doing its own testing and full reporting is not available in Iowa or Nebraska. Something is going on, and we hope that Sand gets to the bottom of it along with the Johnson and Polk county attorneys.

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