Bipartisan climate bill hopes to safeguard U.S. beer industry

By CHRIS WERLE,

As the season begins its turn to fall, many Hattiesburgers look forward to the return of the great outdoor events that bring us together. From the Live @5 concert series at Town Square Park to Oktoberfest at St. John’s, a cool fall evening with family and friends can pair perfectly with a frothy glass of beer from one of our excellent local breweries.

In 2012, Mississippi boasted the lowest ABV (alcohol by volume) cap in the country and just one lone brewery. But when lawmakers finally passed and Gov. Bryant signed legislation that raised that ABV cap, opportunity knocked for many Mississippi entrepreneurs.

Since then, pints have been raised at FIFTEEN breweries across Mississippi, four right here in the Pine Belt! Craft beer festivals such as Top of the Hops attract thousands of aficionados, and we now enjoy several new Hub City businesses featuring craft beers from around the world or even supplies for home brewers. Each of these new businesses supports a dedicated group of employees, contribute to our cultural and tourism economy, and provide new revenue for their community.

The origin of all this enjoyment and profit lies with a humble grain cultivated by humans for over 10,000 years. Barley is grown primarily in cooler climates, with Idaho, Montana and North Dakota (49, 29 and 25 million bushels a year) leading U.S. production.

As our global climate warms, projections for barley-producing regions include damaging heatwaves and droughts and a reduction in yields of 17 percent (winter barley) to 33 percent (spring barley). Since barley also is important for livestock feed, a reduction in supply means greater competition between livestock and beer, and of course, the brewers will not win that fight. A team of scientists from China, Britain, the US, and Mexico recently predicted a resulting drop in global beer production of 16% by the end of the century, with the potential for a doubling of prices. Some areas reliant on grain imports will be hit even harder; the team calculated a 193 percent increase in beer prices in Ireland, home to some of the best stouts on the planet.

The U.S. also produces nearly half of the world supply of hops, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. If we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere unabated, drought conditions in the Yakima Valley could become common within 50 years, threatening this valuable U.S. crop.

The best way to safeguard the American beer industry from these long-term threats is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act (H.R. 763), the first bipartisan climate bill in a decade. This bill aims to cut carbon pollution by 90 percent by the middle of the century, and it is 100 percent revenue-neutral; the government keeps nothing! Virtually all top economists support this approach as a way to reduce emissions while maintaining economic growth. Furthermore, H.R. 763 has provisions for exempting farmers (including barley and hop growers) from rising fossil fuel costs.

Within the US House of Representatives, there is a bipartisan Small Brewers Caucus comprising 234 members from 43 states, and it comes as no surprise that this caucus has endorsed H.R. 763. Furthermore, a group of 145 breweries in 26 states has signed a declaration calling for support of this bill.

Beer makes up nearly 2 percent of U.S. GDP, with over 6,000 small breweries in 50 states contributing to local communities just like ours. With the emergence of this industry as an important economic driver, and also as a way to bring Americans together regardless of affiliation, perhaps beer can be the catalyst that pressures Congress to act on climate.

Werle is leader of the Hattiesburg chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby. Email him at: hattiesburg@citizensclimatelobby.org

PREP SPORTS: