The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
This summer brought some long-overdue good news: finally, significant federal legislation to address climate change. The name doesn’t make it obvious, but the Inflation Reduction Act is the most significant climate legislation ever to become law. It also provides many other conservation benefits. National Audubon has summarized 12 ways this bill addresses climate change and benefits birds and habitats. You can read the full list at: https://www.audubon.org/news/12-ways-inflation-reduction-act-will-benefit-birds-and-people. The six that are most relevant for our region are reprinted below:
Reducing Carbon Pollution Through Clean Energy
Birds tell us that we need to take action on climate change. A 2019 report from the National Audubon Society found that two-thirds of North American bird species will be vulnerable to extinction if global temperatures are allowed to rise at the current rate. The best way to do that is by deploying clean energy across the United States.
By directing about $370 billion toward speeding the transition to clean energy (two-thirds in the form of tax credits for producing renewable electricity, investing in renewable technologies, and clean energy manufacturing), the Inflation Reduction Act will cut annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 billion metric tons by 2030, which will help drive down carbon emissions by about 42 per-cent according to a preliminary study by Princeton University.
Estimates are that the clean energy tax credit extension and clean energy grants in the legislation will result in more rapid deployment of renewable energy with annual solar deployment projected to increase to 49 Gigawatts per year (10GW in 2020) and Wind to 39 Gigawatts per year (15 GW in 2020). (One Gigawatt equals = approximately 3.1 million solar panels.)
It is also notable that the clean energy investments in this bill are expected to reduce home energy costs while cut-ting harmful emissions. These savings are driven by a mix of more efficient energy use and lower electricity rates and are estimated to save between $16 and $125 per household by 2030.
Building Drought Resilience in the West
The IRA includes $4 billion in drought resilience funding for the American West, where rivers like the Colorado River—which provides water for 40 million people and 400 bird species—are in crisis. Specifically, this funding allows agricultural and municipal water users to voluntarily reduce water consumption (leaving more water in rivers), ad-vance projects for efficiencies in water conservation, and restore habitats impacted by drought. In the face of a hotter and drier climate, all of these actions will help the Colorado River, the Salton Sea, and other western rivers.
The bill includes $2 billion for wildfire risk reduction, including funds for nature-based solutions like beavers, which can restore natural hydrology and reconnect river systems. Hundreds of millions of dollars are also included for wet-land conservation and restoration on National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Wildlife Refuge properties.
In addition, the IRA includes $220 million for Tribal climate resilience, $12.5 million for near-term actions to mitigate drought impacts for Tribes, and $550 million for disadvantaged communities to plan, design, and build water projects that create or improve reliable access to water.
Restoring and Conserving Forests
Healthy forests are important for birds and people. The Inflation Reduction Act will invest more than $450 million to help private landowners manage forests and to provide incentives that will help protect more forest ecosystems. Forests naturally store carbon dioxide in their trees, shrubs, and soils, and keep carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.
They also build climate resilience in places like the Upper Mississippi River Watershed where Audubon is work-ing with landowners on forest restoration and management. There, floodplain forests provide communities along the river critical protection from flooding as well as habitat for nearly 200 bird species, including the Prothonotary Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Red-Shouldered Hawk.
Managing forests for birds is highly compatible with managing forests for other purposes. Private landowners are already engaged in healthy forest management across the United States, including the Upper Mississippi River Watershed and the Atlantic Flyway where Audubon is working with private landowners and foresters.
Putting Our Lands to Work for Birds and People
The $20 billion from the IRA going toward the grasslands efforts mentioned in #5 will also help more producers implement climate and habitat-friendly practices on their farms and ranches even beyond grasslands. With an additional $1 billion in Conservation Technical Assistance, these funds will help support programs at the USDA that have proven to work for farmers, ranchers, and birds together by supporting landowners as they make habitat improvements. There is often significantly more interest in these programs than there is funding to meet that interest.
In 2021, Audubon found that maintaining and restoring important bird habitats can also help mitigate climate change. The majority of these priority areas are on private lands. These funds will support land owners who implement changes to improve carbon storage and hopefully also the habitat on their land.
Audubon California works with rice farmers to adopt these types of practices, and by doing so their active farmland is able to serve as a habitat for migratory birds like the Tricolored Blackbird, Greater Yellowlegs, and the Northern Pintail.
Protecting People and Wildlife
The Inflation Reduction Act will also invest $1 billion for federal agencies to conduct robust reviews under the National Environ-mental Protection Act (NEPA) for projects using federal funds or on federal lands. NEPA ensures that the government not only accounts for impacts through sound scientific study but also through public input. These reviews are critical, especially as we know energy and infrastructure projects have historically had a disproportionately negative effect on low-income and rural communities, as well as people of color.
The Endangered Species Act has helped recover bird species like the Bald Eagle, Brown Pelican, and Black-capped Vireo. This work is often difficult and underfunded but the IRA injects $125 million into the implementation of endangered species recovery plans and addressing climate change impacts on key habitats. Government agencies, like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, work with states, Tribes, and other partners to implement these plans.
Habitat is incredibly important to the conservation and recovery of birds and other wildlife. The IRA also provides $121 million toward rebuilding and restoring parts of the National Wildlife Refuge System and state wildlife areas.
Assessing the Cost of Methane Pollution
Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases, and is the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after carbon dioxide. Venting, or burning off, excess methane is particularly hazardous for both people and wildlife, and methane leakage is a common problem in fossil fuel production. Methane from the oil and gas supply chain is often co-emitted with harmful air pollutants.
Reducing emissions from greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane will help alleviate some of the worst effects of climate change. The IRA includes funds for methane emissions monitoring and fixes, and applies a fee on oil and gas operations of $900 in 2024 (up to $1,500 in 2026 and thereafter) per metric ton of methane emitted.
Currently, companies are able to vent or flare excess methane on pub-lic lands without paying any royalty like this back to the public. As we address the need to account for climate change and the carbon pollution that contributes to it, these types of regulations are essential to reducing oil field waste and emissions.
The legislation also provides funding through the Environmental Protection Agency to incentivize oil and gas facilities to better monitor emissions and adopt emission-reducing technologies. It also provides support for disadvantaged communities hurt by pollution from oil and gas operations.
Meanwhile, on the local level…
RVAS continues to be very active in local conservation efforts, including providing input on management of the Bear Creek Greenway, proposing changes to Ashland’s riparian ordinance, and, as a member of the Southern Oregon Wildlife Crossing Coalition, working to develop wildlife crossings over and under I-5. Watch for updates in the com-ing months!