Task Force Briefed on Drought in the West, Forms Interagency Working Group to Provide Relief, Announces more than $700 Million in New Conservation Funding to Invest in Climate Resilience and Carbon Removal

Today, ahead of the Leaders Summit on Climate, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy convened the third National Climate Task Force. Cabinet members and White House leaders discussed pathways that will significantly reduce greenhouse gases while growing the economy, creating good-paying, union jobs, and cutting pollution on a sector-by-sector basis, consistent with direction from President Biden to develop a 2030 greenhouse gas target as part fulfilling his promise to re-enter the Paris Agreement.

Another key focus of the virtual meeting was to discuss the severe drought that is gripping the western United States. The Task Force was briefed by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and NOAA scientist Dr. Roger Pulwalty on the severity of the drought. In areas like the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, lake levels today are lower than occurred during the Dust Bowl. As has been shown in previous years, severe drought conditions can set the stage for worsening wildfire seasons, which in 2020 alone caused $16.6 billion in damages.  The early, severe drought situation is just the latest manifestation of the pervasive and pernicious impacts that climate change is having on American communities.

In response, National Climate Advisor McCarthy, as Chair of the National Climate Task Force, requested that the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland form an Interagency Working Group to address the needs of drought impacted communities. The Working Group also will explore opportunities to improve our nation’s resilience to droughts and other severe climate impacts that are upending Americans’ lives and economic livelihoods.

The National Climate Task Force also discussed how investing in conservation can fight against climate change by enabling forests, range lands, and farm lands to remove and sequester additional volumes of carbon from the atmosphere – while strengthening the resilience of these lands to drought, wildfire, and other climate impacts.

In line with this theme, several cabinet secretaries announced important conservation initiatives that will help fight against climate change by increasing carbon stocks in conserved lands while strengthening the lands’ abilities to withstand drought and other adverse climate impacts. In particular: 

  1. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation – devoting $300 million or more annually to the effort.
  • CRP is one of the world’s largest voluntary conservation programs with a long track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon, and reducing nitrogen runoff, as well providing healthy habitat for wildlife. 
  • CRP is a powerful tool when it comes to climate mitigation, and acres currently enrolled in the program mitigate more than 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If USDA reaches its goal of enrolling an additional 4 million acres into the program, it will mitigate an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent and prevent 90 million pounds of nitrogen and 33 million tons of sediment from running into our waterways each year.

USDA also announced investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Secretary Vilsack chose to make the announcement at White House National Climate Task Force meeting to demonstrate USDA’s commitment to putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.

2. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that $78 million in grants have been approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which will provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners the ability to help conserve or restore nearly 500,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds across North America – including Canada and Mexico. The grants, made through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), will be matched by more than $120 million in partner funds.  Partners in NAWCA projects include private landowners, states, local governments, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, Tribes, land trusts and corporations.

3. Separately, the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and additional governmental and private partners announced that they will provide $34 million for nature-based approaches through the National Coastal Resilience Fund. These projects will advance restoration or enhancement of natural features, such as coastal wetlands, dunes, and coral reefs, to protect coastal communities and infrastructure from flooding, while also improving habitat for fish and wildlife.

As outlined by President Biden’s January 27 executive order on tackling the climate, the Task Force is chaired by the National Climate Advisor and includes Cabinet-level leaders from 21 federal agencies and senior White House officials to mobilize the Biden-Harris Administration’s implementation of a whole-of-government approach.

Task Force membership is comprised of the following government officials:

  • National Climate Advisor (Chair)
  • Secretary of the Treasury
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of the Interior
  • Secretary of Agriculture
  • Secretary of Commerce
  • Secretary of Education
  • Secretary of Labor
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Secretary of Energy
  • Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Administrator of General Services
  • Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
  • Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
  • Assistant to the President for Economic Policy

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