By Senator Mike Johanns
Recognizing the land that has brought us so much prosperity and reminding us of our own individual responsibilities to preserve it, Arbor Day offers a welcome opportunity to dispose of partisan banners and unite for a common cause. It is especially insightful and relevant in today’s climate of mandates and regulation.
The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, sparked popular enthusiasm for trees and agriculture throughout Nebraska and the country in the 1860s and 1870s. Morton proposed a statewide tree-planting initiative that appealed to Nebraskans’ natural civic duty and passion for the land. On April 10, 1872, our first Arbor Day, more than one million trees are believed to have been planted in Nebraska.
Morton left a legacy of leadership and unity, and built upon the American farmers’ sense of civic duty to fulfill not just individual needs but a broader public good as stewards of the Earth. Our farmers and ranchers today are proud to live up to that standard. For decades, American producers have passionately pursued both agricultural production and environmentalism. Today, agricultural realities are being pulled apart from environmental ideals, and in many cases we find ourselves faced with the false choice of one or the other.
Consider the proposal of a cap-and-trade policy, passed in the House of Representatives last summer and in the early stages of debate now in the Senate. We are being told by its proponents that in order to best preserve our land and our climate, we must sacrifice millions of acres of agricultural production and punish farmers and ranchers in the heartland by forcing higher electricity, fuel and fertilizer costs. The Administration says these heavy-handed government controls are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The irony of all ironies is that this bill would potentially strike the very industry that J. Sterling Morton recognized as essential to protecting our environment with virtually no benefit. Without the international cooperation of leading emitters like China, cap-and-trade would yield no discernible environmental benefit.
Agricultural interests and realities are now being pitted against the important need to protect the land that feeds us. The fact is that the global population is booming, and we will meet growing demand by continuing to improve upon traditional agricultural production practices, which farmers are doing without overbearing mandates. Farmers make their living from the land, and they are very mindful of maintaining, protecting and improving it.
Implementing a cap-and-trade system would throw American agriculture production into reverse at a time when it desperately needs to be springing forward. J. Sterling Morton proved that we can meet new challenges while still fulfilling what he once proclaimed; “Each generation takes the Earth as trustees.” On Arbor Day, this should be about accomplishing goals without stifling mandates and unnecessary regulations that suppress our farmers, who have demonstrated a true commitment to both protect the land and feed the world.