The Inflation Reduction Act, passed this August, is the largest environmental bill in U.S history by financial magnitude, and bodes well for sustainable agriculture and resiliency efforts in New York State — as well as potential research initiatives within Cornell’s College of Agricultural Life Sciences.
The act will invest nearly $370 billion of government funding in energy and climate, intending to reduce emissions by as much as 40 percent over the coming decade. The bill states this will be achieved through complex tax and credit models in addition to carbon sequestration approaches, technological innovation, incentives, project funding and rural development.
Despite emission reduction being the primary incentive laid out by the bill, funding will also go towards more general conservation efforts and sustainable agricultural development and economy. The agricultural provisions, in Title II of the act, promise to generate approximately $40 billion towards investments and projects designed to promote climate-smart models of farming, as well as protect the livelihood of farmers and foresters.
Because of the span and plasticity of much of the bills funding, the potential for the application of new technology and incentives are on the horizon for regional farms corroborating in sustainable methods going forward, according to Prof. Wendong Zhang, applied economics and management.
“This has direct [financial and developmental] implications for New York State’s very important dairy sector. So does increased clarity on energy credits for biogas properties,” Zhang said, pointing to the bill’s “$8.5 billion in “proposals that utilize diet and feed management to reduce enteric methane emissions from ruminants” and “agricultural conservation practices or enhancements that the Secretary determines directly improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses; as well as reduce, capture, avoid, and sequester carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide emissions associated with agricultural production.”
Likewise, to $1.4 billion in rural easement, $1 billion for technical assistance as well as $300 million in grant opportunities from the NCR, $500 million in rural co-op assistance and renewable energy loans, $9.7 billion towards carbon capture systems and reduced greenhouse gasses.
“These investments could strengthen the rural cooperatives in New York State as well as help transition to a clean energy future without leaving rural residents behind,” Zhang said.
Still, the IRA has critics. To some, what the bill posits remains scientifically underdeveloped, or perceived as coming with unexpected caveats. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-V.T.), who voted for the bill, called one of its provisions anti-environmental, and pointed out a land “give away” to fossil fuel industries as a prerequisite for land to be used for sustainable energy.
Other critics point to a lack of understanding in the realms of scientific information, innovative approaches, flaws in carbon sequestering, remission and credit systems.
“Ensuring that the IRA’s funding goes to initiatives that actually help combat climate change will pose a challenge,” said climate policy expert Alice Hill. “For example, though the bill allocates billions of dollars to support climate-smart agriculture, critics have warned that some of the targeted programs could do more harm than good by funding projects that increase emissions by incentivizing land clearing, fertilizer use and intensive animal breeding.”
Since the IRA is a ten-year plan, it is at risk of being slowed or fettered by administrative shifts. The IRA will be more difficult to undo, however, given that the bill is a congressional act as opposed to an executive order, which is easier to revoke.
On Aug. 22, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) spoke at the University in lieu of the bill being passed, mentioning University research being done in agricultural development. Prof. Matt Ryan, Integrated Plant Science and Prof. Virginia Moore, Integrated Plant Science, are conducting research on cover crops, a method of sustainable crop rotation, which is related to a feature of the bill that institutes a payment for farmers per acre of cover crops implemented.
Sen. Gillibrand reinforced that the IRA will necessitate ample research efforts going forward — both existing and new — and for the bill to be effective, the research and projects that it promotes must be.