On August 16, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which represents the largest federal investment into addressing climate change in United States history. (click here for the final text of H.R.5376) Not only is this good news for our planet, it’s good news for private land conservation and the work land trusts like Legacy do.
The Inflation Reduction Act is landmark climate legislation that has the potential to reduce U.S. emissions by 40% by 2030, helping to reduce carbon in our atmosphere and buffering human and natural communities from the worst effects of climate change.
The IRA will fund critical Farm Bill conservation programs: Land trusts and the landowners they work with will have access to an additional $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to be allocated across four years, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be increased by $4.95 billion during that period. The Conservation Stewardship Program ($3.25 billion) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($8.45 billion) will also receive huge investments, and there is $1 billion in technical assistance for landowners who use these programs to reduce climate-related emissions.
Investments in other federal programs that will support land trust work include:
- $700 million for the Forest Legacy Program
- $1.5 billion for the Urban and Community Forestry program to plant trees in underserved areas
- $2.6 billion to NOAA for coastal zone management grants for the conservation, restoration and protection of coastal and marine habitats
- $450 million in competitive grants for underserved or small private forest landowners to carry out climate mitigation practices and participate in emerging private markets
- $3 billion to EPA for environmental and climate justice block grants to help reduce greenhouse gas pollution and/or mitigate climate risks in disadvantaged communities
“The increase in funding of Farm Bill conservation programs is a clear acknowledgment of the critical role that private landowners will continue to play in addressing climate change and its impacts,” Andrew Bowman, president and CEO of the Land Trust Alliance said. “This is an unprecedented investment in voluntary private land conservation and the work of land trusts across the country to protect our irreplaceable farmlands, forests, ranches and wetlands.”
It is still unclear exactly how Legacy, our partners, and existing and prospective landowners will directly benefit from the funding, but we will be watching closely as details unfold.
Currently, we have 13 projects in our land acquisition pipeline. Many of these are not donated easements (including six that are farmland focused!) and the landowners will need to be compensated for the value of their land’s development rights, which they part with upon entering into a conservation easement with Legacy. They are committing to never developing their land along with other restrictions which are put in place to avoid harming the rich soils, unique natural areas, and wildlife habitat. Legacy already depends on federal money from the 2018 Farm Bill to help partially finance farmland projects, and the IRA infusion to the Farm Bill conservation programs could open up additional funding for future projects in the pipeline as well.
These federal funds are critical, but limited to about half of the cost of development rights. Legacy must raise the balance of the funds needed, including staff time, project preparation costs, and future stewardship requirements, so that is why our supporters are also vital to our ability to protect important land.
Legacy is looking forward to learning how the IRA may help with stewarding our preserves and assisting our current landowners as well. Presently, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides Legacy funding for completing habitat restoration and invasive species removal at the Reichert Preserve, and more IRA EQIP money could facilitate additional forest stand improvement across our other preserves. In addition, Legacy is hopeful that as we continue to seek out ways to connect our 80+ landowners to new financial and technical stewardship resources, and more IRA technical assistance funding will fill that role.
Lastly, there are pieces of the IRA that may bolster work we have only recently begun. As we continue to dive deeper in the specifics of the bill, we are excited to find new ways to integrate climate change mitigation and environmental justice into our work.
The IRA is complex and complicated. There is still so much to be rolled out and understood. We’ll be working closely with our partners to help understand the breadth of what will be available as Legacy and our landowners continue to play an integral part in addressing climate change and its impacts. As we learn more, we’ll be excited to share it with you!