Climate Change: Options to Enhance the Resilience of Agricultural Producers and Reduce Federal Fiscal Exposure

Download the report.

What GAO Found

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has efforts underway to encourage agricultural producers to enhance their resilience to climate change. Specifically, USDA has taken some steps to develop and disseminate information about climate change to producers and has goals to better integrate climate resilience into agency decision-making through annual updates to its climate adaptation and resilience plan. In addition, some USDA programs may provide indirect incentives for producers to enhance their climate resilience.

Through a review of literature and interviews with experts, GAO identified 13 potential options for USDA to enhance producers’ climate resilience (see table). Each option has strengths and limitations. For example, regional climate resilience strategic planning could improve coordination, but achieving consensus across a diverse set of stakeholders could be challenging.

Potential Options for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to Help Enhance Producers’ Climate Resilience
1.  Collect data on practices that enhance climate resilience.
2.  Expand technical assistance to prioritize and promote climate resilience.
3.  Prioritize climate resilience in whole-farm conservation planning.
4.  Expand the capacity and expertise of USDA’s Climate Hubs.
5.  Develop an agricultural climate resilience plan that addresses regional needs.
6.  Establish standards for climate-resilient agricultural operations.
7.  Revise the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Practice Standards to include climate resilience.
8.  Expand conservation program eligibility criteria to include and prioritize climate resilience.
9.  Expand the capacity of USDA’s conservation programs.
10.  Research the feasibility of incorporating climate resilience into crop insurance rates.
11. Require producer adoption of climate-resilient practices to claim crop insurance premium subsidies.
12. Offer crop insurance premium subsidies for climate-resilient operations.
13. Require producer adoption of climate-resilient practices to maintain Farm Bill Title I program eligibility.
Source: GAO analysis. | GAO-23-104557

Implementing multiple options offers the most potential to improve the climate resilience of agricultural producers, according to experts and GAO’s analysis using the Disaster Resilience Framework. This framework states that integrating strategic resilience goals can help decision makers focus on a wide variety of opportunities to reduce risk. USDA officials said that some of the options could be implemented administratively through resilience planning updates required by executive orders, while others would require additional authority. The appropriate mix of options is a policy choice that requires complex trade-off decisions. By analyzing options and incorporating them, as appropriate, in future climate resilience planning efforts, USDA could help meet its obligations under executive orders and inform legislative efforts to reduce fiscal exposure from the federal crop insurance program and agricultural disaster assistance programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

Agricultural production is projected to decline in regions with increased frequency and duration of climate change impacts, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Congress has appropriated more than $15 billion in agricultural disaster relief in recent years. Extreme weather events also create fiscal exposure from the federal crop insurance program. In 2021, this program insured over 100 agricultural commodities, with a total program liability of $136.6 billion. In 2013, GAO added Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks to its High Risk List. Enhancing climate resilience—acting to reduce potential losses by planning for climate hazards—can help manage risks.

GAO was asked to review federal efforts to enhance the climate resilience of agriculture agricultural producers. This report examines (1) USDA’s efforts in this area and (2) potential options to further enhance them. GAO reviewed laws and regulations related to USDA’s climate resilience efforts; analyzed literature; interviewed experts and agency officials; and used GAO’s 2019 Disaster Resilience Framework to evaluate federal climate resilience activities.


GAO is recommending that USDA further analyze the options and integrate them into its ongoing climate resilience planning, as appropriate. USDA agreed with GAO’s recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency AffectedRecommendation
Department of AgricultureThe Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the Climate Change Program Office, located within the Office of the Chief Economist, analyzes the options to enhance the climate resilience of agricultural producers that were identified in this report and integrates them, as appropriate, into USDA’s future climate resilience prioritization and planning efforts. Such analysis should include an explanation of USDA’s decision to prioritize or not prioritize the options identified in this report and the identification of any additional authority and resources that USDA would need to implement the options. (Recommendation 1)

How vinyl chloride, chemical released in the Ohio train derailment, can damage the liver – it’s used to make PVC plastics

An illustration of a human liver with cirrhosis. Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library

by Juliane I. Beier, University of Pittsburgh

Vinyl chloride – the chemical in several of the train cars that derailed and burned in East Palestine, Ohio, in February 2023 – can wreak havoc on the human liver.

It has been shown to cause liver cancer, as well as a nonmalignant liver disease known as TASH, or toxicant-associated steatohepatitis. With TASH, the livers of otherwise healthy people can develop the same fat accumulation, inflammation and scarring (fibrosis and cirrhosis) as people who have cirrhosis from alcohol or obesity.

That kind of damage typically requires relatively high levels of vinyl chloride exposure – the kind an industrial worker might experience on the job.

However, exposures to lower environmental concentrations are still a concern. That’s in part because little is known about the impact low-level exposure might have on liver health, especially for people with underlying liver disease and other risks.

As an assistant professor of medicine and environmental and occupational health, I study the impact of vinyl chloride exposure on the liver, particularly on how it may affect people with underlying liver disease. Recent findings have changed our understanding of the risk.

Lessons from ‘Rubbertown’

Vinyl chloride is used to produce PVC, a hard plastic used for pipes, as well as in some packaging, coatings and wires.

Its health risks were discovered in the 1970s at a B.F. Goodrich factory in the Rubbertown neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky. Four workers involved in the polymerization process for producing polyvinyl chloride there each developed angiosarcoma of the liver, an extremely rare type of tumor.

Their cases became among the most important sentinel events in the history of occupational medicine and led to the worldwide recognition of vinyl chloride as a carcinogen.

The liver is the body’s filter for removing toxicants from the blood. Specialized cells known as hepatocytes help reduce the toxicity of drugs, alcohol, caffeine and environmental chemicals and then send away the waste to be excreted.

How the liver works.

The hallmark of vinyl chloride exposure to the liver is a paradoxical combination of normal liver function tests and the presence of fat in the liver and the death of hepatic cells, which make up the bulk of the liver’s mass. However, the detailed mechanisms that lead to vinyl chloride-induced liver disease are still largely unknown.

Recent research has demonstrated that exposure to vinyl chloride, even at levels below the federal limits for safety, can enhance liver disease caused by a “Western diet” – one rich in fat and sugar. This previously unidentified interaction between vinyl chloride and underlying fatty liver diseases raises concerns that the risk from lower vinyl chloride exposures may be underestimated.

Outdoor exposure and the risk from wells

In outdoor air, vinyl chloride becomes diluted fairly quickly. Sunlight also breaks it down, typically in nine to 11 days. Therefore, outdoor air exposure is likely not a problem except with intense periods of exposure, such as immediately following a release of vinyl chloride. If there is a chemical smell, or you feel itchy or disorientated, leave the area and seek medical attention.

Vinyl chloride also disperses in water. The federal Clean Water Act requires monitoring and removing volatile organic compounds such as vinyl chloride from municipal water supplies, so those shouldn’t be a concern.

However, private wells could become contaminated if vinyl chloride enters the groundwater. Private wells are not regulated by the Clean Water Act and are not usually monitored.

Train cars after the derailment are jumbled and on fire.
Nearly a dozen train cars carrying hazardous chemicals were among those that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, 2023, and burned. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Vinyl chloride readily volatilizes into the air from water, and it can accumulate in enclosed spaces located above contaminated groundwater. This is especially a concern if the water is heated, such as for showers or during cooking. Vinyl chloride gas in enclosed spaces can therefore accumulate. This effect is similar to recent concerns about fumes from natural gas stoves in poorly ventilated homes.

Although there are established safety levels for acute and intermediate exposure, such levels don’t exist for chronic exposures, so testing over time is important.

What can be done? Anyone with a private well that may have been exposed to vinyl chloride should have the well monitored and tested more than once. People can air out their homes and are encouraged to seek medical help if they experience dizziness or itching eyes.

Juliane I. Beier, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Environmental Health, University of Pittsburgh

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Institutional Water Treatment program helps combat the spread of Legionnaires’ disease

Read the full post from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

The Institutional Water Treatment program (IWT), part of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Technical Assistance Program, provides unbiased, professional water treatment advice to facilities equipped with institutional water systems such as cooling towers, chillers, and boilers. Their services range from presenting on-site training and seminars to providing chemical specifications and making recommendations for a comprehensive water treatment program to control corrosion, mineral scale formation, and biological growth.

IWT now offers on-site water sample collection and two laboratory test methods for L. pneumophila detection. The IWT laboratory is one of only six laboratories in Illinois that is CDC ELITE Certified for Legionella testing. The CDC Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE) is a yearly program where laboratories demonstrate their proficiency in successfully identifying Legionella in water samples.

A slew of state proposals shows the threat of ‘forever chemicals’

Read the full story at Stateline.

In rivers and groundwater, in human bloodstreams and products ranging from cosmetics to food packaging to carpets, researchers are increasingly finding “forever chemicals” that don’t break down naturally and are shown to cause myriad health issues.

State lawmakers across the country want to tackle the growing problem. Several states have passed landmark laws in recent years, and now dozens of legislatures are considering hundreds of bills to crack down on using such compounds. The legislation would strengthen product disclosure laws, increase liability for polluters, bolster testing plans and enact water quality standards.

US issues Inflation Reduction Act guidance to drive billions to low-income and coal communities

Read the full story at Utility Dive.

The U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Internal Revenue Service issued guidance Monday on Inflation Reduction Act provisions that aim to spur investment in underserved communities and coal communities.

One notice establishes the expanded Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Credit program under Section 48C of the Internal Revenue Code.

The program provides $10 billion in tax credits for clean energy manufacturing and recycling, industrial decarbonization, and critical materials processing, refining and recycling.

At least $4 billion of the 30% tax credits must go to projects at closed coal mines or retired coal-fired power plants.

Potential projects include manufacturing of fuel cells and components for geothermal electricity and hydropower, equipment for carbon capture, and critical minerals processing facilities, according to the departments and the IRS.

Senate Republicans push to overturn EPA’s recent heavy emissions rules

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

Senate Republicans are pushing to overturn the U.S. EPA’s upgraded emissions standards for heavy-duty truck emissions standards for 2027 model year and newer vehicles.

Sen. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, introduced legislation alongside 33 of her colleagues on Feb. 9 to undo the regulation, which the group said would be challenging to implement and make new, compliant trucks cost-prohibitive for small business owners.

Storing carbon dioxide underground may be a safe solution to mitigate climate change, according to new study

Read the full story from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

A study led by the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA) and the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA CSIC-UIB), both belonging to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), has shown that injecting billions of tons of atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) underground has a low risk of leakage back to the surface.

EU to speed up the development of clean energy technologies

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

The European Union is trying to speed up the development of clean energy technologies by offering tax credits and domestic subsidies to companies—a move designed in part to keep pace with US President Joe Biden’s landmark green package.

New wind and solar are cheaper than the costs to operate all but one coal-fired power plant in the United States

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

A coal-fired plant near Gillette, Wyoming stands alone in the nation on one measure of economic viability—a positive distinction for that plant, but a damning one for coal-fired electricity in general.

Dry Fork Station, with generating capacity of 405 megawatts, is the only coal plant in the country that costs less to operate than it would take to replace the plant’s output by building new wind or solar plants in the same communities or regions, according to a new report issued today by the think tank Energy Innovation.

Upcycled brewers spent grains taken to the next level to target functional snacks for today’s modern athlete

Read the full story at Bakery & Snacks.

EverPro – created from upcycled brewers spent grains BSG – sits at the heart of several of the optimised protein blends developed by Osage Food Products to deliver targeted functional properties for better-for-you snacks like nutrition bars and protein shakes.