Policy Update: Congress Passes the Inflation Reduction Act, with Historic Investments in Conservation
On Friday, the House of Representatives returned from its August recess to debate and pass the Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark tax, healthcare, and climate change bill. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later this week. The package, which the Senate had cleared five days prior, contains historic levels of energy and climate investments, including nearly $20 billion in agricultural conservation programs that AFT has long advocated for.
You can read AFT’s analysis of the original draft legislation here.
As the Senate engaged in its marathon “reconciliation” process, small changes were made to funding levels in the conservation section of the bill in order to comply with Congressional Budget Office rules. The final amounts include:
- $8.45 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
- $4.95 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
- $3.25 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
- $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
- $1 billion for conservation technical assistance
- $300 million for NRCS to measure outcomes associated with conservation practices
- $100 million to administer the programs
The Senate also included in the Agriculture Title of the bill an additional $3.1 billion in debt relief to farmers that are economically distressed and most at-risk of losing their farms, as well as $2.2 billion for direct assistance to producers who suffered historical discrimination in federal farm loan programs prior to 2021. The bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to determine criteria and eligibility for the new program. It also contains $250 million for land loss assistance, such as heirs’ property and fractionated land, $125 million for technical assistance, outreach, and mediation, $10 million for equity commissions at USDA, and $250 million for agricultural education emphasizing scholarships and career development at historically Black, tribal, and Hispanic colleges.
Finally, the bill increased investments for USDA’s renewable energy initiatives, primarily by providing $13.3 billion for farm bill energy title programs, including $1.7 billion for the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP), and $9.7 billion for rural cooperatives to decarbonize their energy systems. This is in addition to historic incentives and investments to decarbonize America’s electric grid, including by promoting wind and solar. Due to the significant impact that solar development, in particular, is expected to have on rural communities—83 percent of solar development is anticipated to be located on farmland—AFT will be closely monitoring the implementation of these provisions and working to promote smart solar principles.