What the Inflation Reduction Act Means for Public Lands

This summer, Congress passed a sweeping bill that will tackle climate change and invest in public lands. In this first part of a two-part blog series, we dig into what implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act will mean for our public lands and waters.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
November 17, 2022
What the Inflation Reduction Act Means for Public Lands
Scott’s Creek, La Push area, Olympic National Park. Photo by Ginger Sarver.

The climate crisis is a critical issue for outdoor recreationists like you, who took action to urge Congress to go big on climate and invest in a sustainable future for the planet and our communities. In early August 2022, everything fell into place and lawmakers passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) - a massive package of climate, healthcare, and tax bills. The final version of the bill contains $369 billion in climate provisions, making it the largest effort to address the climate crisis in our nation’s history. 

One of the biggest ways this package will help address climate change is through various provisions and tax incentives for clean energy and emissions reductions. The Act is estimated to result in up to a 44 percent reduction of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. These investments will be paid for through revenue generated by closing a number of tax loopholes, including a new corporate minimum tax on the largest, most profitable corporations.

While the Inflation Reduction Act isn’t everything we hoped for in a climate package, we celebrated its passage with lawmakers, outdoor brands, land managers, and recreationists from across the region. This new law is a critical step toward addressing the climate crisis, which continues to have a significant impact on public lands and recreation.

We’ll dig into the clean energy and carbon footprint reduction aspects of the IRA in a separate blog post. In the meantime, we’re excited to share more about how the IRA will invest in our public lands and provide land managers with resources to make them more resilient to the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.

What does the IRA Mean for Public Lands?

Investing in Public Lands

The Inflation Reduction Act recognizes the importance of leveraging public lands as natural climate solutions. Conserving and protecting forests and other public lands will ensure that these places continue to store carbon and prevent future greenhouse gas emissions. The Act provides an infusion of funding for land managers at the Forest Service, National Park Service (NPS), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that will greatly improve their ability to support these lands and fulfill their missions.

The IRA includes $500 million in funding for conservation and habitat restoration at the Department of Interior (DOI). NPS and BLM will also see $250 million for conservation and restoration work. Restoring habitat and funding other conservation initiatives on our federal public lands improves the health of our landscapes and yields benefits for wildlife, climate, and recreation.

The law also includes $700 million for the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, nearly doubling the program’s funding over the next ten years. This funding will encourage the protection of privately-owned forest lands through conservation easements or land purchases. The IRA also provides $50 million for the agency to complete an inventory of old growth and mature forests in National Forests, as well as developing conservation strategies for them. The Forest Service will also receive $100 million to conduct more efficient environmental reviews. 

The National Park Service will receive nearly one billion dollars to help address chronic staffing issues and improve climate resilience across the park system. This will include $500 million to hire new staff scientists, preservationists, and other specialists. The agency will also spend $200 million on priority deferred maintenance projects at National Parks to complement funding from initiatives like the Great American Outdoors Act.

It’s still too early to know exactly how this funding will be implemented by the agencies, but this memo prepared by our partners at Outdoor Alliance is a great resource to learn more about the implementation of the Department of the Interior restoration funds included in the IRA. These investments are an immediate way for us to help address the chronic lack of funding at the Forest Service and other land management agencies.

Protecting Coastal Areas from Climate Impacts

Washington’s coastlines and beaches are already on the front lines of a changing climate. The coastal areas of the Olympic Peninsula are high-risk and are home to many public lands that support outdoor recreation opportunities. The IRA also includes significant investments in coastal communities for climate resilience. This comes in the form of grants for states, Tribal governments, and non-profits for projects that will support the climate resilience of coastal communities, as well as fishery stock assessments and salmon recovery. 

The IRA will fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with $2.6 billion to support coastal communities and habitats. Our partners at Surfrider Foundation say this funding will help protect and restore “blue carbon ecosystems that are a first line of defense against storm surges and sea level rise, and [are] incredibly efficient carbon sinks.”

Wildfire-Resilient Landscapes

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, rising temperatures, less winter snowpack, and drier summers have increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires, resulting in forest closures and unhealthy smoke that impacts our health and communities. The larger and more frequent wildfires we’ve seen in recent years will only become more severe - and closer to home.The future of outdoor recreation in the forests we love depends on successful wildfire management and mitigation.

As land managers are forced to spend more of their budgets on wildfire suppression, the IRA includes critical funding for wildfire mitigation activities, including $2 billion for forest thinning, prescribed fire, and other projects that reduce fire risk by reducing hazardous fuels in certain forests. This funding will help the Forest Service implement their 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy and reduce the risk of megafires, while also requiring that fuel reduction projects mitigate impacts to ecological resources and avoid sensitive conservation areas.

The IRA also supports wildfire mitigation work on non-federal lands by providing $550 million for forest restoration and workforce development programs for private landowners, Tribes, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments. With these increased resources at their disposal, land managers can ensure that landscapes are increasingly resilient to wildfire into the future. 

Oil and Gas Leasing on Public Lands

The IRA is a mixed bag for oil and gas leasing on public lands. Currently, there is no oil and gas production in Washington, but many areas of the state have attracted exploration in the past. Oil and gas drilling is an enormous threat to pristine ecosystems in Alaska and other areas. The future of oil and gas leasing on our nation’s federal public lands will have a significant impact on efforts to address the climate crisis.

On the positive side, the law increases royalty rates and fees for onshore oil and gas leases for the first time in more than 100 years. This will help ensure taxpayers are getting a fair return on these extractive activities on our public lands. The IRA also increases the minimum lease bid to $10 per acre (up from $2 per acre), raises rental rates, and establishes a new fee for nominating parcels for leasing. This modernization of the federal oil and gas leasing program is long overdue, and is particularly significant for Bureau of Land Management lands and other public land throughout the West.

Unfortunately, the IRA ties future wind and solar energy development to oil and gas leasing by requiring that the Department of the Interior (DOI) must offer up a minimum acreage of oil and gas leases before allowing rights-of-way for renewable energy development. Other provisions require that DOI hold onshore oil & gas lease sales every quarter.

Environmental Reviews and Public Engagement
Putting the Inflation Reduction Act into action will require a government-wide effort to support new clean energy infrastructure and climate adaptation projects. Many of these projects will need to be designed and implemented quickly in order to achieve our climate goals, requiring agencies to efficiently complete environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA is important to Mountaineers and other outdoor enthusiasts because it’s the foundational law that requires land managers to review and assess possible environmental impacts of development proposals on public lands. NEPA also protects the public’s voice and right to participate in development decisions that can greatly affect the landscapes and ecosystems where we recreate and the outdoor experience these places provide.

The IRA provides hundreds of millions of dollars for agencies to complete environmental reviews. These investments will help ensure that clean energy projects do not come at the expense of a transparent public process, and that agencies can adequately address community concerns before projects move forward.

What’s Next?

A big piece of how the IRA will help address the climate crisis is through incentives for investing in clean energy and reducing carbon emissions. In the second part of our two-part blog series on the IRA, we will share opportunities for individuals to leverage IRA funding and programs to reduce your carbon footprint by transitioning to clean energy sources.

Given the scope of investments included in the Inflation Reduction Act, there will be more work ahead for the outdoor recreation community to ensure that these funds are expeditiously put into action to build a clean energy economy and support climate-resilient public lands. The Mountaineers and our partners will continue to engage with decision-makers throughout the implementation of the IRA.

The IRA has already jumpstarted efforts to tackle the climate crisis in a substantial way, but our climate advocacy doesn't end here. It’s important to make sure climate investments stay a top issue in Congress moving forward. Take a few moments to use our easy action tool below to keep the conversation going by thanking lawmakers for investing in our climate and public lands!

THANK LAWMAKERS FOR ACTING ON CLIMATE


Support from our partners at Outdoor Alliance was instrumental in the production of this blog. You can read a version of this post on their website.