4 big ways the Inflation Reduction Act invests in rural America

Ben Thomas

To address climate change, the U.S. is making a historic investment in farmers, ranchers and rural communities, helping them cut emissions, prepare for climate impacts that are already here, and create good jobs along the way.

The Inflation Reduction Act will direct about $20 billion toward agricultural conservation programs and nearly $14 billion toward clean energy for rural America.

To stabilize the climate and maintain a safe, vibrant planet, we need to transition to climate-smart agriculture and clean energy. The new legislation will expedite efforts already underway — and jumpstart new ones.

Here are the Inflation Reduction Act’s most impactful climate investments in rural America.

1. Opening the door for more farmers to use conservation programs

U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs are underfunded and oversubscribed. On average, three farmers want to participate for every slot available.

With the additional funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, the USDA can hold the door open wider, enabling more farmers to participate in conservation programs.

These are farmers who already value conservation but need financial assistance or technical assistance to make the transition. The increased funding should get climate-smart practices on the ground quickly.

Just as important, addressing climate change is now a stated priority for these conservation programs, with guidance in the law to prioritize practices that reduce methane and nitrous oxide and help store carbon in soils.

These programs will continue to prioritize other vitally important conservation outcomes like clean water when reviewing farmer applications, but now, climate change will be on the list, too.

2. Creating a strong foundation for the next farm bill

The farm bill — a mammoth bill that comes up every five years and determines much about the food we eat and how it’s grown — is the largest source of funding for conservation on privately owned lands. It’s a powerful vehicle for cutting emissions and building resilience to the impacts of climate change nationwide.

The Inflation Reduction Act extends funding for conservation programs authorized by the 2018 farm bill and makes additional investments in conservation.

That means funding for critical conservation work is ensured, as long as Congress avoids rolling back these historic investments. Instead of focusing on preserving the amount of conservation funding available, energy can be directed toward creative ideas to advance climate-smart farming.

The Inflation Reduction Act’s conservation funding provides enormous potential for agricultural producers and environmentalists to work together on incentive-based solutions that are durable and equitable.

3. Measuring progress to improve future investments in combating climate change

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $300 million for the USDA’s Office of Energy and Environmental Policy to set up a program to measure the climate impact of conservation programs managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

These funds can be used for aggregating and analyzing existing data or conducting new research to improve measurement, reporting and verification on farms and within regions.

This is the decisive decade for working toward a better climate future. Having dedicated funds for measuring progress is incredibly important for farmers, ranchers, taxpayers and the climate. Good science and data will ensure that every dollar spent through public or private efforts has the maximum impact.

4. Investing in rural clean energy to grow jobs and cut pollution

One of the most impactful portions of the Inflation Reduction Act — for both rural economies and climate change — is a $14 billion investment in helping farms and rural electric co-ops transition to clean energy.

This will create an estimated 90,000 good jobs in rural communities, which have seen thousands of jobs migrate to cities in recent decades. This won’t reverse the trend on its own, but it will jumpstart economic revitalization and opportunity. It’s also one of the largest emissions reductions opportunities in the law and will make rural electric grids more reliable and resilient.

The Inflation Reduction Act’s investments in rural America show that the U.S. is serious about reducing climate risks and expanding opportunities to be part of the climate solution. Over the coming decades, we will all benefit from lower pollution and more resilient economies and food supplies.

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