Group linked to Ocasio-Cortez seeks ag input after Green New Deal backlash
By Helena Bottemiller Evich, POLITICO
Allies of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have quietly begun soliciting input from noted agriculture experts as the debate over the New York Democrat's Green New Deal has intensified in Washington and provoked strong opposition in the ag sector.
The fledgling attempt at outreach has been seen by some as the first sign that AOC-land might engage rural interests in earnest as she fleshes out future climate legislation beyond the nonbinding resolution she and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) offered, which calls on Congress to enact a decade-long plan to shift the entire U.S. economy away from fossil fuels, reduce income inequality and create "millions of good, high-wage jobs."
While Republicans have generally lambasted the concept, howling that it will bankrupt the country, even progressive agriculture advocates have been disappointed by what they feel is a myopic, undefined and overly urban-centered approach that largely ignores the many ways farming practices can be an important climate mitigation tool.
Ocasio-Cortez's roll-out of the Green New Deal plan last month was hobbled by the fact the congresswoman's office posted a fact sheet that referenced the need to eliminate “farting cows" — a line that, for livestock producers, amounted to a clear threat. The misinformed talking point was soon dropped, and Ocasio-Cortez's office later said the document had been posted by mistake, but it had already spread like wildfire — and was held up by critics as a symbol of Democratic overreach.
After watching that drama unfold, Frank Mitloehner, a leading scientist on agricultural emissions at the University of California, Davis, was thrilled when two outreach staff affiliated with AOC's network reached out to set up a call to discuss the potential for climate mitigation efforts in agriculture. The call, held earlier this month, lasted more than an hour, Mitloehner said.
“I was very glad to inform of what I know, and they were very receptive to it,” Mitloehner said on Agri-Talk last week. During the segment, he urged agricultural producers to not dismiss the left-wing climate effort.
“I take all of that very seriously,” Mitloehner said, when the radio hosts expressed some skepticism about the Green New Deal. “Many of my colleagues don’t seem to take it very seriously, but I take it very seriously.”
The outreach to Mitloehner came after he had tweeted at AOC rebutting comments she made to schoolchildren that suggested they skip meat and dairy for a meal to help combat climate change. Mitloehner urged the congresswoman to take a more nuanced approach to animal agriculture and climate change mitigation.
The outreach did not come directly from Ocasio-Cortez's office, but from two people involved with an outside effort to promote the Green New Deal: Anna Scanlon, outreach director of New Consensus, a nonprofit that's reportedly a policy spinoff of the Justice Democrats, a political action committee that assails corporate influence in Democratic politics; and Melina Watts, an environmental expert and writer based in Chico, Calif., who isn’t on staff at New Consensus but has been helping the effort, according to a current staff member contacted by POLITICO.
Watts said New Consensus was especially interested in Mitloehner's thoughts on how the Green New Deal could be “scaled up” and in learning more about how anaerobic digesters are being used to convert waste to renewable energy.
“New Consensus is working to convene experts, industry leaders and activists to answer some of the most difficult, practical questions relating to the GND,” Watts wrote to Mitloehner.
At this point it's not clear whether the broader Green New Deal policy apparatus is actively conducting outreach to other agriculture experts. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, for example, said it hadn’t been contacted, despite the group having publicly raised a number of specific questions about the Green New Deal as it worked to craft its position on the proposal.
New Consensus declined POLITICO's request to discuss its outreach efforts. The group's website says it works to “develop and promote” the Green New Deal, which it dubs a “World War Two-scale mobilization to fix America’s greatest problems.”
Agriculture accounted for about 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2016, according to EPA data. Agriculture leaders have long argued that farmers and ranchers get outsized blame for the U.S. business sector's overall contribution to emissions, particularly considering agriculture's improvements in efficiency.
“While emissions from crop and livestock production have remained relatively flat since 1990, once the productivity gains are counted, agriculture has been on a long path to sustainability,” the American Farm Bureau Federation said in an emissions analysis released last week. The Farm Bureau noted that technology and production practices have boosted output: Productivity in agriculture was 270 percent greater in 2017 than it was in 1948.
“Focusing only on aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels can obscure the successful achievements agriculture has made in the areas of productivity and sustainability,” the group argued...