Legislation Offers Senate Opportunity to Pass Historic Climate Legislation

August 2, 2022

A deal reached last week between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and West Virginia Sen. Joe Machin III now sets lawmakers on course to move the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the largest package to fight the climate crisis ever passed by Congress.

Some $369 billion in spending and tax breaks would be provided for combating climate change and bolstering U.S. energy production through initiatives that would encourage economy-wide cuts to carbon emissions.

Approximately $40 billion, or roughly 10 percent of the total allocation, will go to USDA for climate smart agriculture programs, biofuel development, forest restoration work, renewable energy tax credits, conservation technical assistance and rural electric cooperative carbon capture and storage and resilience projects, all top priorities for Solutions from the Land.

The measure shows that Senate leaders are recognizing the important role that sustainably managed farms, ranches and forests can play in mitigating climate change and simultaneously delivering import ecosystem services. However, there is pressure to move quickly as senators seek to pass this landmark legislation by the end of this week before Congress takes its customary, one-month summer recess.

What is in play in the bill for U.S. farmers, ranchers and forestland owners?

More than $20 billion would be made available to farmers and ranchers to give them the climate-smart agriculture tools they need to address the crisis. Given that existing conservation programs are oversubscribed by as much as 3 to 1, these funds would help farmers and ranchers implement and expand conservation practices that reduce potent greenhouse gases, such as methane, while increasing the storage of carbon in their soil and trees.

The measure would provide significant program funding for many longstanding Farm Bill programs. Some $8.45 billion would go to the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP); and another $6.75 billion would be aimed at the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), boost funding for public-private partnerships to support locally-led conservation efforts and double the investment on farm and ranch land.

The bill also would set aside $3.25 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), $1.4 billion for the Ag Conservation Easement Program, and $1 billion for the Conservation Technical Assistance Program (CTA).

The funding also would be used to incentivizes sustainable practices, like optimizing fertilizer use and expanding cover crops. These are a “win-win” for conservation and for producers’ bottom lines.

The bill would also boost rural power and clean energy by providing rural electric cooperatives with $9.7 billion for carbon capture and storage and resiliency projects. The bill would also support coops in their transition to cleaner energy, which would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The money also would help rural communities, ag operators and small business owners invest in renewable energy and be more energy efficient.

The bill would make $500 million in grant funding available on a competitive basis for projects aimed at increasing the sale and use of biofuels, targeting initiatives that aid with blending, storing, supplying or distributing fuels made from agricultural feedstocks. The grants would help cover the costs to install or upgrade fuel dispensers, storage tanks and related equipment needed to dispense higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel. The grant funding could also be made available toward the construction or retrofitting of distribution systems for ethanol and biodiesel.

The measure would make up to $5 billion available in grants to support fire resilient forests, forest conservation and tree planting. It would equip firefighters and rural communities to make them more resilient to wildfire. Funding would also be available to boost carbon sequestration, as well as plants trees in urban communities.

It’s an important piece of legislation that gives farmers, rancher and forestland owners tools and funding to address an ever-growing threat to food and fiber production, all while simultaneously scaling up the delivery of important ecosystem services. Given the short deadline the Senate has put on passing the legislation, SfL urges climate-smart-agriculture stakeholders to reach out to lawmakers now and urge them to work together and adopt these important provisions in a timely manner.

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