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In Maine, our environment is inextricably linked to our economy. Generations of farmers and fishermen have cultivated our rich natural resources to feed our state and build successful businesses. Yet when I talk with Mainers working in our heritage industries, I hear deep concern that climate change will threaten their livelihoods. Floods, extreme weather, ocean acidification, shorter growing seasons and other environmental changes show that the climate crisis is also a food supply crisis.
After years of inaction, Congress has turned the page on climate denial. In one of our first acts this session, the U.S. House established the nation’s first ever Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which is charged with developing concrete policy recommendations to mitigate this threat to our future. On Tuesday, the select committee is set to release its report and I am proud to say that it will include recommendations from six of my own bills. These recommendations will be used by the 20 permanent House committees to produce comprehensive climate legislation.
I wrote these pieces of legislation to address ocean acidification, reduce food waste, promote local food systems and provide farmers with the tools to produce net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2040.
I am proud that my Agriculture Resilience Act serves as the select committee’s model for recognizing agriculture as a part of the climate solution. We know agricultural activities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions but this sector also has huge potential to mitigate climate impacts. To reach net-zero emissions in this sector by 2040, the act focuses on solutions that are farmer-driven and rooted in science. You can read more about these incentives to improve soil health, promote carbon sequestration, preserve farmland and increase research and the use of on-farm renewable energy at pingree.house.gov/netzeroagriculture. Farmers are on the frontlines of climate change and our bill will ensure they can stay on their land and in business.
We have no time to spare. Did you know that if food waste were a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China? So I am thrilled that ideas from two more of my bipartisan bills to prevent food waste were included in this landmark report: the Food Date Labeling Act and the School Food Recovery Act.
The Food Date Labeling Act would finally end consumer confusion around food date labeling and ensure Americans do not throw out perfectly good food. Concurrently, the School Food Recovery Act would create a federal program to support public schools working on food waste reduction projects. When millions of Americans struggle with food insecurity, food waste is not simply an environmental concern, it is also a social concern. It’s long past time that we take action to help the 1 in 5 Maine children who go hungry while schools and universities waste 7 million pounds of food annually.
One of the best ways to reduce our carbon footprint is to eat locally sourced food. The select committee clearly saw the link between regional food systems and emission reductions and has included my bipartisan Kids Eat Local Act. If enacted into law, this would cut red tape and make it easier for schools to buy local foods. This is a win-win for our kids’ health and the environment, and it would open new markets for Maine’s seafood industry and more than 7,000 small farms across our state. Importantly, it wouldn’t increase costs for the government or school meals programs.
I’m just as pleased to see the committee’s report address the threat climate change poses to coastal economies. Maine shellfish growers and harvesters have been grappling with the effects of ocean acidification and the drastic warming of the Gulf of Maine. But instead of funding more research, congressional Republicans spent years ignoring it.
That’s why I introduced the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act to study ocean acidification and its impact on coastal communities. Not only was our bill included in the select climate committee’s report, it unanimously passed the House last June, signaling overwhelming bipartisan support. This consensus shows that there is nothing controversial about assessing how warming oceans will affect our $2 billion seafood industry.
The inclusion of our six bills in the select committee’s watershed report affirms that reforming our food system presents a dual opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously supporting Maine’s heritage industries. While we fight COVID-19 and its economic impacts, we cannot forget the looming disasters we’ll face if we do not act on climate now, too.
Chellie Pingree represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House. She is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.