Emissions of nitrous oxide are a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in the United States, amounting to approximately 5 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions on an annual basis. Agricultural soil management as a source category accounts for nearly three quarters of those emissions. To date, no significant legal controls have been applied to regulate nitrous oxide pollution from agricultural soil management in the United States, and existing incentives applied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have yielded limited participation and impact on cumulative annual emissions. As a result, regulation of nitrous oxide pollution from this source category presents an opportunity to achieve substantial reductions.
The LPDD text recommends that regulators incentivize nitrous oxide emission reductions at agricultural sources by providing offset credit for reductions associated with improved soil management practices. This could be facilitated through the creation of a model offset credit protocol for adoption by states, allowing for issuance of offset credits in the context of current or future GHG emission reduction programs promulgated at the state level.
California’s Climate Action Reserve (CAR) broadly accounts for emission reductions associated with implementation of cropland nitrogen management best practices across a wide range of crops and geographies for which CAR determined adequate quantification data and methodologies existed. States seeking to provide offset credit for reductions in nitrous oxide emissions through improved agricultural management practices would be best served by incorporating the CAR Protocol itself into state law, either directly or by reference, similar to the manner in which California has adopted some of CAR’s other protocols and/or recognized offset credits issued pursuant thereto within the context of its Cap-and-Trade Regulation. This memorandum provides legal background and tools to better facilitate that process for state and regional policymakers.
Readers should see also our LPDD draft EPA regulation on N2O management from large commercial farms, adopting a federal approach to this issue, and our LPDD model healthy soils bill for establishing state N20 management standards, furthering a state-level approach.
These important contributions to the LPDD implementation project were drafted principally by Lindsay Brewer and Kevin Poloncarz, with assistance from Steven Palmer and Jasmine Jennings, all of Covington and Burling, LLP. Peer reviewing was provided by Jessica Wentz, Senior Fellow and Associate Research Scholar, Columbia Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, and David Kanter, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, New York University, and Vice Chair, International Nitrogen Initiative, who were also the LPDD chapter’s co-authors.