Energy & Environment

Panel battles over tree-planting legislation

The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday juxtaposed competing visions for tackling climate change: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and planting trees to capture carbon. 

They panel considered a bill sponsored by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that aims to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions on public lands by 2040 and a bill by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), which seeks to plant trees to capture carbon. 

Grijalva, who chairs the panel, criticized Westerman’s bill, saying it would not do enough to mitigate climate change. 

“We must not lose focus on what the science tells us we must do to stabilize global temperatures and avoid catastrophic impacts. This will require a lot more than planting new trees,” he said.  “We must dramatically reduce greenhouse gases and get to net-zero emissions as rapidly as possible.” 

Westerman defended his legislation, saying, “Every American can support planting a tree. If we can connect that action with sustainability and carbon storage, we are one big step closer to solving a complex problem.”

Grijalva’s bill, introduced late last year, would halt fossil fuel production on public lands for at least a year and set five-year targets the Interior Department must meet on the way to meeting the goal to produce net-zero emissions on public lands. 

It would be prohibited from issuing new leases until it came into compliance with the targets.

Westerman’s bill aims to set targets for increasing domestic wood growth and creating a sustainable building tax credit. It’s part of a package put forth this month by several House Republicans.

Democrats joined their chairman in criticizing Westerman’s bill.

“Any bill, no matter how well-intended, that does not respond to this crisis needs to be recognized as part of the problem,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “We should plant trees, we should perfect cross-laminated timber … but we should not call these ‘climate solutions’ if we are using these strategies to continue deforestation and continue developing and burning fossil fuel at a completely unacceptable and unsustainable pace.”

Carla Staver, a Yale associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, similarly said that “forests do have a role to play,” but that “tree planting alone will not fix our ongoing climate emergency.”

The trees bill, which also follows a pledge by President Trump that the U.S. would join the 1 trillion tree initiative, will face an uphill battle. 

Grijalva told The Hill in an emailed statement that “we’re not marking it up in the foreseeable future.”


Tags Bruce Westerman Climate change Donald Trump Jared Huffman Tree planting Trees
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