Trillion Tree Plan Could Be Centerpiece of GOP Climate Package

Feb. 5, 2020, 10:43 PM

Republicans in Congress said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s embrace of a global tree-planting initiative could make the proposal a centerpiece of a forthcoming GOP climate change package.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) plans to unveil legislation over the next week or so for a U.S. Trillion Tree Initiative, which Trump endorsed in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ultimately seeks to combine that bill and other ideas into a House GOP climate package.

Trump’s call for “an ambitious effort to bring together government and the private sector to plant new trees in America and all around the world” came on the heels of a similar endorsement by the president at January’s World Economic Forum of a global initiative to restore, conserve, or plant a trillion trees globally by 2030.

Westerman’s bill is undergoing tweaks, but as drafted would include provisions directing the Agriculture Secretary to set a 2030 target—to be strengthened over time—for increased tree growth in U.S. forests to sequester carbon. It also would increase authorization for forest funding, including various forest and reforestation trust funds.

‘Repugnant to Any Person Who Cares About This Planet’

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, doubted Trump is serious about the tree idea.

“Look, if he’s really serious about protecting the environment, I am sure he will have some strong support on the Democratic side of the aisle,” Lowey said. “Unfortunately there were so many statements there that were repugnant to any person who cares about this planet, who cares about our neighbors, who cares about the future, that it was hard to focus on that” during what she termed “a disastrous” State of the Union speech.

Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, roots and surrounding soil.

If countries succeed in planting 1 trillion trees to address climate change, they have to be planted so they’re permanent and avoid wildfires, which release all the trees’ stored carbon back into the atmosphere, said Diana Liverman, director of the University of Arizona’s School of Geography and Development and lead author of a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the effects of global warming.

But the Westerman draft also would treat biomass—trees, branches, and other wood material—as carbon neutral, meaning it wouldn’t result in a net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That designation could draw stiff resistance from Democrats.

With assistance from Bobby Magill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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