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How the climate bill affects Mountain West energy, water, forestry, and ag

Wild farm in Idaho.jpg
Douglas Barnes
/
U.S. Department of Energy
Power County Wind Farm - Power County, Idaho

President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law this week. It’s a massive piece of legislation with hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at confronting climate change, lowering healthcare costs and reducing the deficit by taxing large corporations.

The largest single aim of the law is to combat climate change through emission reductions, technology improvements and more American-made renewables and batteries. To that end, alone, there’s about $369 billion in the bill.

That includes some funding to support nuclear and advanced nuclear projects, like those being tested at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Colorado-based clean energy think tank RMI, said it will “usher in a wave of new clean energy growth and investment” as well as bolster energy security.

Others, like influential author and science vlogger Hank Green, who lives in Montana, touted it as possibly the world’s largest piece of climate change legislation, which gives him some hope amid years of bad news on that front.

The IRA also includes continued oil and gas lease opportunities on federal lands alongside renewable energy development, which was controversial. Some feel these fossil fuel provisions are at odds with combating climate change, while others think certain parts of the law hurt oil and gas development unnecessarily.

The American Petroleum Institute was particularly skeptical of the IRA’s corporate tax increases.

“While the Inflation Reduction Act takes important steps toward new oil and gas leasing and investments in carbon capture and storage, it falls well short of addressing America’s long-term energy needs and further discourages needed investment in oil and gas,” API president and CEO Mike Sommers said in a statement.

Beyond that, some of the law’s provisions are aimed at helping lower certain prescription drug costs and enabling Medicare to negotiate those drug prices.

While the cost of prescription drugs increased, the Colorado River Basin water levels have decreased. To help with that, the law also includes $4 billion for water management and conservation in the basin and other areas experiencing drought. That’s building on $8.3 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund similar efforts.

The IRA also includes $1.8 billion for fuel treatment -- like prescribed burning -- on Forest Service lands in the wildland urban interface.

“There are a lot of ways that we have to make sure that forests are managed for more effective uptake of carbon, and a lot of times, depending on the forest, that involves controlled burning,” said Tom Cors, who works with The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental non-profit.

Controlled or prescribed fires can help prevent more extreme blazes, which can decimate forested areas instead of rejuvenating them.

There are incentives for agriculture to capture more carbon in the law, too. Cors says The Nature Conservancy worked with lawmakers on some of those provisions.

“Climate smart agriculture provisions in the bill are approximately $20 billion, and a lot of those look at how to improve nutrient management and soil health and edge of field practices,” he said.

While there is broad support for agriculture to help fight climate change, there is some skepticism about how much changing agriculture techniques will sequester carbon, what guidelines to use for these techniques, and how much farmers should be paid to do so.

And while many laud the funding, Black farmers feel they were cut out of the deal and that the president has failed to meet promises made to them.

Finally, tribes and Native communities will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to bring energy to more homes, bolster energy efficiency in homes and provide drought relief, among other items.

There are many, many other provisions in the bill, and its effects could be felt for decades. To read the bill text, go here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.