Climate & Energy Bill to Bring Big Benefits to Arkansas Rural Communities


In an Arkansas Times OpEd yesterday, Kenneth Smith, Director of Audubon Arkansas, made the case for why Arkansas—and specifically Arkansas rural communities, which are rich in natural resources and fertile land—have more to gain than lose from comprehensive climate and energy legislation, like the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454, a.k.a. ACES):

Multiple studies by respected institutions show that a balanced climate and energy bill is good for the environment, good for the economy and will lead us to more jobs and greater energy security. Even agriculture and forestry, two of Arkansas's most important industries, can benefit from a balanced bill.

ACES would exempt the agricultural sector from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caps and provide transitional assistance for farmers. The bill would also create a carbon offsets market and spur the expansion of markets for renewable energy, both of which will enhance agricultural revenues.  As Smith explains, while farmers may see modest increases in initial energy costs from climate legislation, “a cap and trade market with offsets would generate revenue that would lower the cost of compliance and generate additional revenue to agricultural and forestry producers.”  He also notes that climate and energy legislation will create greater demand for biofuels and biofuel-producing crops, adding more revenue opportunities for U.S. farmers. 

Smith cites Kansas State University’s review of six recent studies that examine ACES’s costs and benefits for American farmers.  The review found that agriculture stands to be a net winner from climate and energy legislation’s passage (see my post on the review here).

NRDC’s own analysis of the economic potential for renewable energy development in Arkansas found that taking advantage of these opportunities in renewable resource development would reduce GHG emissions while creating tens of thousands of jobs for Arkansans and give a big boost to rural communities across the state.

 Arkansas’ Clean Energy Resource Potential, Energy Advantages, and Environmental Benefits

A recent survey found that Arkansans strongly support renewable resource development and energy efficiency, want to see a decrease in coal use, and would support a requirement that utilities use renewable energy and energy efficiency to meet electricity demand. Comprehensive climate and energy legislation would create and expand new markets for renewable energy, displacing the costly system of importing energy from across the globe.  With these national policies in place, Arkansas could become a key supplier of clean energy and the tools to produce it. 

Smith highlights the significant economic and environmental costs of inaction for Arkansas and says “time is ticking”:

Under climate change, agriculture is the most identified domestic economic sector likely to be negatively impacted…

Arkansas's biggest industry is tourism. Total travel expenditures in 2008 for Arkansas were almost $5.6 billion. A 2006 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that $1.8 billion was spent in Arkansas for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. What happens to the state's tourism and outdoor recreation industry when climate change impacts more waterfowl and wildlife and these species decline or disappear? What happens if smallmouth bass, trout, and cold water fisheries are eliminated from our lakes and rivers?

Despite attempts to scare American farmers about the costs of climate legislation, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln and her Senate colleagues representing agricultural states, must recognize the important economic benefits a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill would bring their rural constituents.  Arkansas’ resources—both natural and human—give it the potential to be a national leader in the production of the clean, renewable energy America needs.  Now Arkansas’ political leadership should seize the opportunity to help curb global warming pollution, protect the state’s natural resources and agricultural sector from the costly impacts of climate change, and deliver significant economic benefits to Arkansans by helping to pass clean energy and climate legislation this year. 

This blog post was co-written by Pierre Bull.