What the Inflation Reduction Act Means for Wild Winters

WWA applauds Congress for passing the Inflation Reduction Act but we’ll remain vigilant to ensure subsequent actions don’t cancel out the climate wins in this bill.

Photo by Jason Hummel

“This bill is the most significant action the US Congress has taken for climate to-date. Given the implications the IRA has for energy and infrastructure development, however, it’s more important than ever that the government conduct robust environmental reviews that provide opportunities for public input and consider climate impacts when making decisions about specific projects. We applaud Congress for passing the Inflation Reduction Act but we’ll remain vigilant to ensure subsequent actions don’t cancel out the climate wins in this bill.” – Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director

Winter Wildlands Alliance engages in several processes related to climate change, including advocating for national forest management that protects carbon sinks, promoting additional natural carbon sequestration, and advocating for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions tied to national forest lands. We also advocate for the protection of intact ecosystems and biological strongholds. Our work on national forest management is directly tied to addressing the climate crisis and is critical to achieving 30×30 goals.

In late July 2022, Senators Manchin and Schumer announced they had come to consensus on a package to address climate change, energy independence, health care, inflation, and the country’s deficit. The package is the largest climate bill ever and makes huge strides to addressing the climate crisis, which has a profound effect on public lands and recreation. As of August 12, 2022, the bill has passed through Senate and the House of Representatives.

The package, branded as the Inflation Reduction Act, contains $369 billion in climate provisions. It is the biggest investment in the climate crisis in the nation’s history, and independent analysis estimates that it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 44%.

Here is our best breakdown of what the package will mean for our work and for your wild winter experience.

Energy – Solar, Wind, Batteries, Coal, Oil and Gas

This bill has big implications for America’s energy supplies. It includes much-needed oil and gas leasing reforms, major incentives for renewable energy development, and other elements that will move us towards a cleaner energy future. We aren’t stoked that the bill requires the Interior Department (DOI) to hold lease sales, but the amount of acreage up for sale is about half of what the DOI has historically offered each year. The new oil and gas leasing reforms will discourage companies from stockpiling leases they don’t intend to develop (right now only about half of the public lands currently leased to oil and gas companies are currently under production).

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a crucial key to climate action and at the center of this bill. We need NEPA to stay strong in order to make sure these projects don’t create larger environmental and/or justice issues than they solve. If these environmental reviews aren’t robust and transparent, and don’t consider climate impacts or provide meaningful opportunities for public comment, then we lose an important safeguard to make sure things are “done right”. Read more on our work to protect NEPA and how you can take action today.

Lastly, we need to make sure we’re phasing away from fossil fuels, managing the oil and gas leasing program responsibly, and making sure that the new clean energy sources we turn to next don’t cause equally problematic climate and environmental issues (industrial-scale wind and solar have plenty of environmental issues that we need NEPA for too).

With this in mind, here is a break down on what this bill means for energy industries:

  • Solar, Wind, and Battery Energy Storage
    • $30 billion in production tax credits for solar, wind and battery energy storage, which will incentivize development of solar and wind farms on public lands.
  • Major Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms
    • Increases royalties for onshore federal oil and gas from 12.5% to 16.66% (meaning taxpayers/public land owners will be more justly compensated for the development of these minerals).
    • A royalty for all methane extracted at an oil and gas well, whether it’s sent to market, flared or vented, or used on-site for cryptocurrency mining (with one exception: if it is re-used to power drills or other oilfield equipment). Again, taxpayers/public land owners will be better compensated for the extraction of this.
    • Funding for methane-leak monitoring and repairs, which is super important regarding local air pollution as methane leaks are a major but poorly tracked climate issue.
    • Increases the minimum bids for onshore oil and gas leasing from the current $2/acre to $10/acre. This means continued development of fossil fuels, but gives a higher value to our public lands instead of just giving them away at a ridiculously low price for this industry to make an easy profit off of.
    • Ending the practice of noncompetitive leasing. This prevents companies from obtaining public lands leases for next to nothing. In addition to the fiscal reasons for not giving away public lands to industry, it’s important that companies don’t stockpile leases. Once lands are leased – even if there’s low/no potential to develop – it’s really difficult to get the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or other agencies to manage those lands for conservation, recreation, or other purposes. (background explainer from the Center for American Progress here).
    • A $5-per-acre fee on companies that want to nominate parcels for leasing.
    • Any development of oil and gas leases (as well as wind/solar) must undergo an environmental review under NEPA and DOI has discretion to deny drilling permits or attach restrictions to permits (such as seasonal or no-surface occupancy requirements to protect wildlife or reduce conflicts with recreation).
  • Oil and Gas Lease Sale for Solar or Wind Energy Development
    • Requires that the DOI hold an oil and gas lease sale before it can issue any solar or wind energy development leases. At this sale, DOI must offer either 2 million acres for oil and gas, or 50% of the acreage nominated by industry, whichever is less. A similar arrangement is required for offshore wind/oil & gas.
  • Coal
    • The bill includes a provision that increases the amount of tax credits companies receive for capturing and sequestering carbon. This could incentivize emissions cuts but it could also allow/encourage companies to keep coal power plants operating so long as they install carbon capture equipment.
Public Lands Management

Over the past 50 years the United States has protected approximately 15% of the it’s lands and waters using designations such as Wilderness Areas, National Parks, National Monuments, and other tools.

At WWA, we focus on winter travel and forest planning to further combat climate change as well as protect and restore biodiversity and carbon sinks on National Forest land. These planning processes determine a big-picture strategy for which lands to protect, by what designation, and where to focus active management.

The science is clear that intact landscapes are biodiversity strongholds and the most effective carbon sinks. Therefore, WWA advocates for articulating clear protections for intact landscapes during forest planning. This takes several forms, from recommended wilderness designations, to backcountry management area designations, to semi-primitive non-motorized and primitive Recreation Opportunity Spectrum settings. These are all different ways to protect National Forest landscapes, and while some (like recommended wilderness) are quite restrictive, others allow a wide range of uses – but not the types of development that compromise carbon sequestration potential, sensitive wildlife habitats or migration corridors, or otherwise contribute to the climate and biodiversity crisis.

With this in mind, here is a breakdown on what this bill means for public lands:

  • Over $2 billion in grants that, among other forest management projects, will fund “tree planting and related activities.” States, local governments and tribes are all eligible.
  • Around $1 million in technical assistance for conservation projects through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  • $4 billion to the Bureau of Reclamation for grants and contracts for drought resilience with an emphasis on the Colorado River Basin, along with $550 million for water supply projects, and $25 million for canal improvement projects.

Forest Service:

  • Approximately $1.8 billion for fuel reduction projects in the urban-wildland interface
  • $200 million for vegetation management projects (projects that usually include a combination of commercial harvest, non-commercial thinning, and prescribed burning all with the intent of some combination of reducing insect/disease issues, improving wildlife habitat, and reducing fuel load to make wildfires easier to manage).
  • $50 million for protecting old growth forests.

Park Service:

  • $500 million through 2030 to increase staffing
  • $200 million to address the deferred maintenance backlog
  • Up to $250 million for conservation and resource protection on National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management land.

Ultimately, WWA applauds Congress for passing the Inflation Reduction Act but we’ll remain vigilant to ensure subsequent actions don’t cancel out the climate wins in this bill.