Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack have much in common. They both have Iowa roots. They were governors of neighboring states at the same time. Johanns once served as U.S. agriculture secretary, the job Vilsack now holds.

But now, the two men are trading barbs in an increasingly heated dispute over how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and control climate change, says a Des Moines Register blog.

Johanns, (R-Neb.), a native of Osage, Iowa, who served as agriculture secretary during President George W. Bush's administration, challenged Vilsack's assertions that farmers will benefit from regulations on carbon emissions.

Johanns said Vilsack, a Democrat, is undermining his own department by disputing an Agriculture Department study that predicts a House-passed bill would reduce U.S. production of corn, soybeans and livestock.

"I really like Tom," Johanns said during at his Capitol Hill office. "He's my first choice to be agriculture secretary in this administration.

"It doesn't mean I'm going to salute all the policies, because some of the policies are very, very bad for agriculture. They just are." Johanns went on to say that Vilsack "is not going to win this battle by talking down his own" employees.

Vilsack, in response, denies trying to discredit his department's economists and said he is disappointed with Johanns' attack.

"You can have differences about climate change without being personal about it," Vilsack said. "It's not the Mike I know."

The study relies heavily on a computer model, developed at Texas A&M University, to assess the long-term impact of climate legislation on land use and crop production. Citing discussions with the department's chief economist and other staff, Vilsack said when the study was released Dec. 18 that he didn't think the analysis was an accurate depiction of what would happen under a climate bill. The economists cautioned in the study that it relied on a number of assumptions about biofuels, farm practices and other issues.

"It's unfortunate that the senator would try to suggest I'm throwing people under the bus," Vilsack said of Johanns' criticism.

Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, said Johanns is "obviously against (climate legislation), and he's using every opportunity he can to raise questions about it."

At issue is the extent to which the legislation would encourage landowners to plant trees on their property to collect payments from utilities and other companies that need to comply with limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill passed by the House last summer and a similar one under consideration in the Senate would allow companies to meet their emission requirements by purchasing "offsets." They could buy offsets from landowners who plant trees or change farming practices to store carbon in the soil or reduce emissions.

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Source: Des Moines Register