In a move that surprised nearly everyone on Capitol Hill (including, humbly, your friendly neighborhood National Audubon Society policy and comms shops), the Biden Administration’s effort to pass sweeping climate action is back on the table. The Senate has an opportunity to advance one of the most significant pieces of climate legislation ever in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). It is, as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told Stephen Colbert, “a BFD.”
It is also massive, as these policy packages tend to be. There is a lot of content to explore, and as one of the leading organizations protecting birds and the places they need today and tomorrow, here are some of the highlights that we’re hoping will make it through the final vote:
- Extension and expansion of clean energy: The IRA makes additional technologies like energy storage and biogas eligible for tax credits, and transitions to a technology-neutral credit so that the amount of emissions reduction potential is the primary criterion, rather than the technology itself. The bill also provides billions of dollars for grants and loans for new clean energy manufacturing, repair and upgrade of transmission infrastructure, and incentives for developing domestic supply chains for critical minerals.
- Climate-smart agriculture and resilience: Our fields, forests, and other working lands play a critical role in naturally storing carbon and reducing emissions. The IRA would provide $19.9 billion to support implementation of conservation practices on farms, ranches, orchards, and forests across the country. These practices can also help promote drought resilience in the West through river restoration projects, habitat restoration, and irrigation management and efficiency.
- Methane fee: Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases, and is the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after carbon dioxide. Burning off excess methane, or flaring, is particularly hazardous for both people and wildlife, and methane leakage is a common problem in fossil fuel production. The IRA Includes funds for methane emissions monitoring and fixes, and applies a fee on oil and gas operations of $900 in 2024 (up to $1,500 in 2026 and thereafter) per metric ton of methane emitted.
- Ports: The bill contains $3 billion to reduce emissions and air pollution at America’s ports, which is good news for both coastal birds and nearby communities.
- DOE Loans Program Office (LPO): The LPO is the part of the Energy Department that finances large-scale infrastructure projects. The IRA would give over $70 billion in new loan authority for the LPO, which is critical to expanding clean energy and transmission, as well as updating infrastructure to meet climate threats and ensuring that new projects are designed with conservation of existing environments in mind.
- Increase Timeliness of EPA Reviews: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts reviews of major projects, but this review process, for myriad reasons, suffers from an extensive backlog. The IRA would provide $40 million to the EPA through FY 2026 to provide for timely permitting reviews to advance projects or more quickly identify necessary improvements before proceeding.
- Environmental and Climate Justice: Conservation is more than just protecting wild spaces and wildlife. It also means prioritizing investments to build healthy communities, especially for those communities that have historically shouldered the burden of pollution and climate change. The IRA will provide block grants of $2.8 billion through FY 2026 for environmental justice grants, including community-led air pollution monitoring, prevention, and remediation. Additionally, many of the tax credits provided for in the bill increase in value if they directly affect communities that have been disproportionately affected by climate change, including Black and brown, Indigenous, and lower-income communities.
Overall, this bill represents a major step forward in the effort to meet our climate goals. In a bill this large, final passage will inevitably require negotiation and compromise. Included currently are provisions providing opportunities for additional fossil fuel leasing, with some renewable energy development contingent upon oil and gas leasing being made available on some public lands. Even with these elements, the opportunity for progress on climate is significant. We urge both the Senate and the House to pass this legislation as soon as possible. Birds are telling us that we need to reduce emissions as soon as possible to protect the places that both they and we need to survive. This bill will go a long way to making that critical difference.