The Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed into law on August 16, 2022, includes the most ambitious climate spending package in the country’s history. Its objective is to infuse $369 billion into the economy to fight climate change and set the nation on a path to reach our carbon emissions-cutting goals.
The legislation aims to cut domestic carbon emissions nearly in half—below our 2005 levels—over the next eight years, while tripling domestic clean power production. This also means good news for coastal restoration, forest protection and the preservation of vulnerable places.
Global Catalyst for Combating Climate Change
The legislation isn’t just a step in the right direction to prevent habitat loss and environmental destruction in the United States; the entire world will likely feel an impact.
“As a world superpower, it’s highly symbolic that the U.S. has finally stepped up to the plate to combat this global crisis,” says Court Whelan, chief sustainability officer at Natural Habitat Adventures. He hopes this injection of money into programs addressing climate change will “ignite the fire for other countries that have the means and the ability to do so as well.”
The Inflation Reduction Act’s main goal is to serve as a catalyst for embracing green energy and technology in the ongoing struggle against global warming.
“This bill gets at the root cause of climate change—carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels—and offers significant resources addressing those emissions in American businesses, on our roads, in our communities,” writes Marcene Mitchell, senior vice president, climate change for WWF-US, in a recent blog post.
The legislation will provide enormous tax incentives to households and businesses that implement clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal. It encourages people to make home efficiency upgrades and invest in electric vehicles. It will facilitate grants and loans to build transmission lines to carry clean energy, and tax credits for airlines using sustainable fuel. And it increases tax credits for companies that invest in carbon capture and storage. Overall, the Inflation Reduction Act will create $60 billion in jobs in the clean manufacturing sector.
This new era of tackling climate change will also see a considerable investment in—and protection of—our natural areas, which play a critical role in fighting global warming. Taking care of these special places has the added bonus of protecting both humans and wildlife.
Restoring Coastal Regions
An estimated $2.6 billion will go towards coastal resilience grants to fund projects by state and tribal governments to conserve and restore coastal habitats and their communities.
Coastal mangrove forests are one such ecosystem. Mangroves are considered a nature-based solution to global warming, as they have the ability to capture and store carbon. Restoring them could be incredibly helpful to not just the wildlife that depend on them, but the overall health of the planet.
“What we’ve learned in the last 10 to 20 years is that mangroves are hugely vital for the ecosystem in many ways. They’re a carbon sink, meaning they hold a disproportionate amount of carbon in their vegetative structure,” explains Whelan. “When you’re talking about anything marine-based, mangroves are important, whether it’s in the middle of the ocean like the Galapagos Islands or on a coast like Florida.”
Now, with support for U.S. coastal restoration, Whelan believes there will be a trickle-down effect that could benefit other countries that may not have the resources to experiment and conduct their own research. “Although this bill won’t directly fund mangrove restoration in places like Borneo (where our trips are heavily mangrove-focused), if it’s funding mangrove restoration here, we’re learning how to do it, and we’re getting the playbook for how to do coastal conservation better elsewhere,” Whelan says.
Supporting Healthy Forests
Other meaningful funding that could impact communities and wildlife and play a role in reducing global warming is the $5 billion in grants to support healthy, fire-resilient forests, urban tree planting and forest conservation, not to mention the $50 million specifically allocated for the assessment and protection of mature and old-growth forests.
“Protecting and maintaining a mature forest full of 100- and 200-year-old trees that’s already actively sequestering carbon from the atmosphere is a lot easier than trying to grow or regrow one from scratch,” comments Whelan.
Forests are the lungs of the earth, absorbing carbon and helping mitigate the climate crisis. When a forest burns uncontrollably, the land releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, in addition to the more obvious destruction of natural areas and communities.
“Today’s wildfires aren’t like those we had hundreds of years ago. The fires that we see today, sweeping through and destroying habitats and homes and being completely uncontained in our natural areas and national parks, that’s atypical,” Whelan explains.
As we learn more about how to mitigate the risks of forest fires at home in places like Yellowstone National Park, the research that comes from it (scientific papers and best practices) could be used to mitigate risks in other countries, such as Brazil and Australia, which have both seen widespread forest fires in recent years.
“Pretty much any natural place where you’ve heard about wildfires in the past few years will benefit in some way, even if not directly,” Whelan says.
Other Key Areas of Environmental Impact
The Inflation Reduction Act also specifies funding to address additional environmental issues, including:
- $20 billion for the implementation of climate-smart agricultural practices on farms, ranches, orchards and forests. Some of these include crop rotation, restoration projects, habitat restoration, effective irrigation management, grassland conservation and more.
- $3 billion to reduce emissions and air pollution at ports, which makes a positive impact on coastal birds and communities. This includes supporting zero-emission equipment and technology at our ports.
- $3 billion to reduce pollution and emissions in Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color, which have historically carried the burden of the harmful effects of pollution and climate change.
- $250 million to help implement endangered species recovery plans to support the Endangered Species Act, with particular focus on how climate change impacts key habitats. This will also include investment in projects supporting habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System and State Wildlife Management areas.