Farm State Senators Caution Gore on Proposed Climate Treaty

Published June 1, 1997

A bipartisan group of farm state senators has written Vice President Al Gore saying they are “increasingly concerned with the lack of adequate attention given to agricultural concerns” in the administration’s plans to sign a climate change treaty later this year.

“American agricultural interests must be adequately represented during the upcoming negotiations,” the letter bluntly states. Dated March 14, the letter is signed by, among others, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota)–an unmistakable sign that the administration’s climate change agenda is in trouble with the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill.

The letter comes less than a month after the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO issued a statement warning that the proposed treaty, if not significantly altered, would lead to a substantial loss of jobs for American workers.

“We believe we can address the global greenhouse gas issue and protect the environment while carefully considering the interests of farmers, ranchers, and consumers,” the senators wrote Gore. “However,” they added, “before the United States is committed to a final international agreement to limit greenhouse gases, it is essential that we know more about the treaty’s impact on our nation’s largest employer and the world’s most efficient producer of food and fiber.”

“Closely Monitoring the Negotiations”

The lawmakers informed the vice president that they will be “closely monitoring the negotiations” as work continues on the final agreement before its submission to the Senate for ratification next year. The senators requested that the administration provide them with analysis and briefings “as soon as possible” on the following issues:

  • The effects of climate change on U.S. agriculture and livestock production.
  • The estimated greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of crops and livestock in the U.S.
  • The net contribution of U.S. forests and crops to the concentration of greenhouse gases.
  • Actions or controls necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to comply with obligations that may arise under the treaty, and an economic analysis of their impact on U.S. farmers and ranchers.
  • Whether and to what extent greenhouse gas emission controls would disadvantage agricultural producers in this country compared to producers in other countries with less stringent emission controls or no controls at all.

Treaty’s Impact Carefully Assessed

Lest the senators’ insistence on a timely response to their request be lost on the vice president, they concluded their letter with the following paragraph:

“We understand that anxious discussions in preparation for the Kyoto meeting may commence during July and August of this year. We firmly believe this information, as well as the administration’s formal economic analysis, should be submitted to Congress well before then so that the various options for U.S. policy may be understood and their impact on American agriculture and the American economy may be carefully assessed.”

It is significant that the letter was addressed to Vice President Gore rather than to President Clinton. The vice president is widely seen as the driving force behind U.S. environment policy and has, through his book, Earth in the Balance, and numerous speeches, identified himself irrevocably with the climate change issue. Indeed, had it not been for Gore’s unfailing support, it is doubtful that the issue would have achieved the international prominence it currently enjoys.

In addition to Minority Leader Daschle, other senators signing the letter were: Dick Lugar (R-Indiana, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Max Baucus (D-Montana), Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Charles Grassley (D-Iowa), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), Bob Kerry (D-Nebraska), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), Larry Craig (R-Idaho), and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).