Climate change is likely to be a major priority for President-elect Joe Biden, farming advocates and government relations experts are saying.
“In order to be a successful president, Biden is going to have to look back and show something on climate,” said Chuck Conner, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, in a Nov. 10 meeting for the Ohio Ag Council, discussing the election results.
Louie Perry, principal and director for Cornerstone Government Affairs, agreed. Both noted that if agriculture is proactive and not defensive, it is more likely to see benefits from climate action. Under a climate bill, agriculture could see benefits for carbon sequestration, no-till and other conservation practices.
“It may even be … a win-win for American agriculture,” Conner said.
The panel took place after the election was called with Biden as the president-elect. While the results are not official yet and some legal challenges are pending, panelists spoke with the expectation of a Biden presidency.
While climate action could appear in the 2023 Farm Bill, Perry and Conner expect to see Biden look for some type of climate bill before then.
“On one hand, he needs a climate bill,” Conner said. “On the other hand, it cannot be the Green New Deal.”
If Republicans maintain the U.S. Senate, he said, they are highly unlikely to pass anything like the Green New Deal.
Conner said Biden is likely to face pressure to nominate a progressive U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, which could mean more challenges ahead with rules like the Waters of the U.S. rule, which President Donald Trump rolled back in 2019. For the secretary of agriculture position, on the other hand, Perry expects to see a fairly centrist nominee.
Heidi Heitkamp, a former Democratic U.S. Senator and state attorney general for North Dakota, is rumored to be the current frontrunner, he said. Marcia Fudge, a current Democratic U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, is among other possible candidates.
Biden may face a divided government. The U.S. House of Representatives seems likely to remain Democrat controlled, and the Senate seems likely to remain Republican controlled (although a Jan. 5 runoff for both Georgia Senate seats remains in the balance). But agriculture, Perry said, tends to do well in divided governments.
“I think that agriculture is well-positioned for long time, stable leaders to make reasonable decisions all for the benefit of American agriculture,” Perry said.
On trade, Perry suggested there will be a return to more traditional U.S. trade policy. Biden may focus on partnering and rebuilding relationships with allies, and using those relationships to put more pressure on China and Russia.
“We could actually see a fairly favorable trade environment in American agriculture,” Conner said, “We could see tariffs get rolled back. We could see bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that Trump wouldn’t have done.”
A Biden administration is also likely to take a different approach to farm labor challenges than Trump. When Trump was elected, some thought his stance on immigration would make it impossible to hire agricultural workers from other countries, Conner said. Things didn’t go that far, but there are still major challenges for farm labor in the U.S.
Large numbers of farm and ranch workers are not authorized to work in the U.S. Rather than lose those workers, Conner hopes to see a pathway for them to gain legal status. He expects the Biden administration to be more receptive to that idea than Trump’s administration.
“We may be able to get this done, and that’s something that we should be optimistic about,” he said.
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