GM’s Latest Plan To Combat Climate Change: Protect Grass

CREDIT: AP/North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Waterfowl swimming on wetland in North Dakota.

Chevrolet, a unit of GM, will become the first company to purchase carbon credits in a new program administered by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) in an effort to prevent natural grassland from being converted into cropland. GM is purchasing almost 40,000 metric tons of carbon credits from North Dakota ranchers, which will protect around 6,000 acres from large-scale crop development. Cropland conversion is a growing concern in the Midwest as commodity prices of staples like corn and soybeans rise along with their use in biofuels, Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer with Ducks Unlimited, a conservation organization participating in the program, told the AP.

Robert Bonnie, USDA’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment, is announcing the purchase at the USDA’s headquarters on Monday.

“Along with GM’s interest, our hope is there will be additional companies that will be interested in pursuing this,” Bonnie said Friday. He went on to say that it was important that the credits be “real” and that the government’s role in creating the methodology for valuing the credits was critical.

Ducks Unlimited created the model that will measure how much carbon is retained in the soil as the farmers opt not to till it for crops. Chrevolet’s carbon offset purchase will apply to a dozen or so ranches, which be be placed into a perpetual easement that still allows the owners raise livestock and grow hay. The money they accrue for preserving the land will be used to do things like plant trees, which also helps take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Once the carbon storage benefits are verified, the credits will then be put into the broader offset market.

In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that this announcement is the “first-of-its-kind” and that the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by GM’s purchase will be the equivalent of taking 5,000 cars off the road.

“This public-private partnership demonstrates how much can be achieved with a modest federal investment and a strong commitment to cut carbon pollution.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded $161,000 through a Conservation Innovation Grant to Ducks Unlimited in 2011 to develop the oversight strategy. The USDA said that millions of acres in the West could be eligible to take part in the program. The USDA is currently supporting similar offset programs that provide farmers incentive to keep land intact and even reforest and improve conservation practices.

“If you look at the broad universe, there’s actually a lot of opportunity for agriculture to contribute to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions,” Bonnie said.