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Daily News Blog

19
Aug

Historic Federal Support Could Effectively Take on Climate, Health, and Biodiversity Crises—with Grassroots Advocacy

(Beyond Pesticides, August 19, 2022) On August 16, President Biden signed a bill — the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” — that will provide unprecedented sums to address the existential threats we face related to climate, biodiversity, and health. The $750 billion total appropriation is far less than the original $1.75 trillion hoped for early in the legislative process, but nevertheless is an historic level of federal investment. Beyond Pesticides sees in the bill, now law, opportunities to make significant headway on our call for the elimination of toxic pesticides over the next decade, which launches during our 2022 National Forum Series. The new law could (and should) also provide investment in the critical transition to organic production methods in agriculture. Should the federal government advance organic systems as a climate, health, and environmental justice solution, those two priorities would go far to improve health, reduce dependence on synthetic, fossil-fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers, and allow natural systems to begin to heal from 70+ years of chemical assault.

Component sections of the Inflation Reduction Act include those on Clean Energy and Transmission, Clean Transportation, Buildings and Energy Efficiency, Manufacturing, Environmental Justice, Conservation and Agriculture, Fossil Fuels, and Permitting Reform. Within those categories, many programmatic investments are embedded. For example, the law offers eight that go directly to environmental justice concerns. A detailed primer on the law’s provisions can be found here.

The act also seeks to advance economic and environmental equity, greater fairness in the enforcement of the federal tax system, and both cost reductions and increased access in health care. A quick look at the health care, federal revenue, and health savings provisions is available here.

Beyond Pesticides points to some features of particular interest, given biodiversity and equity concerns, in particular. The new law:

  • increases incentives for wind and solar projects built in or connected to low-income communities
  • enhances loan assistance for rural electricity cooperatives, and boosts rural renewable energy loan capacity
  • establishes a loan guarantee program to support economic opportunities in energy projects for (federally recognized) tribes and Alaska Native Corporations
  • funds the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants Program, which supports equitable, safe, and affordable transportation options
  • provides multiple provisions to support electrification of homes and buildings, including multi-family and tribal properties
  • invests in affordable housing resilience, and energy and water efficiency
  • supports reforestation, old growth watersheds, and habitat protection for threatened species
  • increases funding for the Endangered Species Act Recovery Plans and resilience for climate-induced weather events

Yet the new law is hardly without flaws. The last two categories (Fossil Fuels and Permitting Reform) contain multiple provisions of great concern to advocates for clean energy and climate action. Those features include concessions to Senator Joe Manchin, such as the expediting of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and prioritization of 25 energy infrastructure projects that have to be “balanced by project type: critical minerals, nuclear, hydrogen, fossil fuels, electric transmission, renewables, and CCS (‘carbon capture and storage’) technology.”

Other concerning aspects include:

  • Its agricultural provisions neglect to address meat and dairy production, which generate the greatest carbon emissions in the farming sector.
  • It provides $3+ billion for the elusive and much-derided CCS. As a New York Times guest essay says, “The Inflation Reduction Act does more to cut fossil fuel use and fight climate change than any previous legislation by expanding renewable energy, electric cars, heat pumps and more. But the law also contains a counterproductive waste of money, backed by the fossil fuel industry, to subsidize CCS.” In reality, the authors say, 90% of CCS projects operating in 2021 were actually engaged in “enhanced oil recovery” — extraction of crude oil that cannot otherwise be extracted. They add, “This process produces more natural gas and oil, increases carbon dioxide emissions and transfers carbon dioxide that was naturally locked away underground in one place to another one elsewhere. . . . [W]e consider these ventures oil or natural gas projects, or both, masquerading as climate change solutions.” Many climate advocates agree.
  • The law incentivizes hydrogen production for use as fuel, but the utility of hydrogen in a clean energy future is in doubt. Its greenhouse gas emissions impacts can be significant if production is based on derivation from fossil fuels. In addition, hydrogen is prone to significant leaking and when it does, it contributes to atmospheric warming. Last, hydrogen is highly explosive if not managed properly.
  • What the law advances with one hand, it regresses with the other. To wit, as the Council on Foreign Relations explains, “The legislation also includes a provision that tethers offshore wind leasing to oil and gas extraction. Over a ten-year period, the Interior Department will be prohibited from issuing a lease for offshore wind development unless at least sixty million acres — the size of Michigan — have been leased for oil and gas in the previous year. The bill also requiresthe Interior Department to lease at least two million acres of public lands — more than double the size of Rhode Island — for oil and gas drilling as a prerequisite for any renewable energy development on public lands. Experts, such as the Center for Biological Diversity’s Brett Hartl, have voiced concernthat ‘handcuffing’ renewable energy development to new oil and gas extraction will ‘fan the flames of climate disasters torching our country.’”

Nevertheless, the new and significant directed revenue is set to support programs to address the climate crisis and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030. Beyond Pesticides has documented the role of agriculture in the climate crisis, including the “contributions” of chemically intensive, conventional farming practices — use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, both of which are sourced from fossil fuels — and of industrial CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Much has been written about the value of Nature’s ecosystem services and threats to them, including the fragility of ecosystems to chemical assaults, and the biodiversity and climate crises. And we have researched, written about, and advocated endlessly for the huge role that the transition to organic regenerative agriculture would play in resolution of multiple threats humanity faces.

The “plusses” in the Inflation Reduction Act could potentially transform the energy and climate landscape, as well as aspects of the food system, which is dominated by conventional chemical-intensive agriculture. Globally, the food system is responsible for 25–30% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Provisions of the law under “Conservation and Agriculture” could significantly redirect how agriculture operates in the U.S.

The roughly $21 billion designated for “climate smart” agriculture and Farm Bill conservation programs could tamp down some of the harmful impacts of conventional, petrochemically dependent farming on the environment, ecosystems, wildlife, and natural resources. The law’s agricultural provisions aim, among other goals, to help farmers create and sustain pollinator habitat, increase soil’s capacity to store carbon, and boost resilience of food producers as they face increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather and water shortages.

Specific investments include those for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which funds projects that restore ecosystems and/or reduce emissions on farmland. Another is the Conservation Stewardship Program, which, according to Vox, “pays farmers to make their lands more sustainable,” and has the potential to shift “industrial” farms — which grow huge numbers of acres of monocrops with tons of chemical inputs — to approaches that employ diverse crops, which provides some pest protection; employ cover crops that enrich and feed microbial soil life (the basis of soil health), suppress weeds, and limit erosion; interplant to reduce pest risk; use compost in place of synthetic fertilizers; and deploy other nonchemical approaches that are infinitely less damaging to the soil, the environment, and ultimately, human health (which is put at risk in multiple ways from chemicals, both in agriculture and broadly). Such approaches are integral to organic production.

The law also supports the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which helps landowners restore soils, water, and wildlife on a regional or watershed scale, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which conserves land and protects its agricultural viability by limiting “negative nonagricultural uses.”

In addition to the climate smart programs in which the new law will invest, Beyond Pesticides would argue that some funds must be allocated more directly, via USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National Organic Program), to advance a transition to organic practices that virtually eliminate the use of fossil-fuel-derived synthetic inputs, radically improve soil health and thus, its carbon storage capacity, and use approaches that cooperate with, rather than damage, Nature. Beyond Pesticides also advocates that some of the funds the law provides should be used to redirect the focus and programs at EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) so that the agency’s evaluations of, and decisions on, registration of pesticides account for their impacts on the climate, biodiversity, and health crises. Such realignment would be entirely consistent with the agency’s mission — “to protect human health and the environment — and would stand in some contrast to how the agency has operated over the past few decades.

Response to the new legislation in the environment, health, and biodiversity advocacy communities has been both clear-eyed on its negatives, and appreciative of the opportunities the Inflation Reduction Act will enable. Mike Lavender of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition commented, “The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition celebrates [the] signing into law of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 by President Biden. While not as comprehensive as earlier iterations, this bill represents a meaningful step forward on addressing the climate crisis and reflects key priorities lifted up by the farmers and communities our membership serves.”

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), joined by 131 signatories representing conservation, farming, ranching, hunting, and angling groups, as well as food and agriculture companies, sent a letter to Congressional leaders that included this comment: “Farmers, ranchers, and foresters are ready to adopt practices that sequester carbon and reduce emissions if they are provided the tools and resources to make that goal a reality. Increasing funding for the Farm Bill conservation programs and climate-smart agriculture, and ramping up conservation technical assistance on the ground will enable landowners to mitigate the impacts of drought and flood, restore wildlife habitat, improve soil health and long-term food security, create new job opportunities for rural economies, and galvanize the agriculture sector to lead the charge in our fight against climate change.”

NWF president and CEO Collin O’Mara wrote, “The historic Inflation Reduction Act underscores that we do not need to choose between confronting the climate crisis and lowering costs for families. The Inflation Reduction Act sets America on a new path to a clean energy future by reducing pollution, creating good jobs, and achieving energy independence. [It] is the most significant climate legislation in decades — and a strong foundation for future efforts on environmental justice and wildlife conservation.”

Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said: ”We see opportunities in this new law to advance transformative organic practices, that will, if we successfully advocate for them, move us closer to our goal of eliminating fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers—chemicals that exacerbate the existential public health, biodiversity, and climate threats. However, with the clock ticking and total societal collapse looming, we must leverage the opportunities that this law provides — to elevate the transformational changes with the urgency that they deserve. This will require our community coming together to advocate effectively and with grassroots power.”

Beyond Pesticides sees in this new law great opportunity to turn around the entropic path of environmental, climate, health, and biodiversity harm on which we have trod for the past half-century. We invite the public to join us for the 2022 National Forum Series: Virtual Seminars from Beyond Pesticides (beginning September 15). The National Forum Series launches Beyond Pesticides’ campaign to eliminate fossil-fuel-based pesticide use within the next decade — putting a stop to toxic emissions, exposure, and residues, while embracing an organic systems approach that is holistic and respectful of life.”

The Beyond Pesticides website explains: “The series will focus on three challenging categories: public health threats, biodiversity collapse, and the climate emergency. In each category of our involvement — whether as professionals or lay people, local elected officials or concerned advocates — we play a critical role in enhancing public understanding of the science and [in] the practical hands-on experience to inform the urgent steps that must be taken at the local, state, and national levels. In this context, our positions are informed by a recognition that with all the existential threats there is disproportionate risk to people of color communities and those with health vulnerabilities. While the current challenges result from a confluence of issues that are harmful to sustaining life, the need for carefully defined sustainable land management and building and household practices and products is urgent.”

Join us for the National Forum Series to learn, engage, and perhaps become active in your community and state to change the trajectory and head toward a safer and more-sustainable future! Register here.

Source: https://www.progressivecaucuscenter.org/climate-and-energy-provisions-in-the-inflation-reduction-act

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Historic Federal Support Could Effectively Take on Climate, Health, and Biodiversity Crises—with Grassroots Advocacy”

  1. 1
    Yvonne Fisher Says:

    The breakdown in food production and the health and safety of our produce is at a critical moment. It is apparent that chemical methods of farming have had an adverse effect on our crops and our health. Now is the time to move forward and to open our hearts and minds to new ways of working with nature instead of against her. Now is the time to put money and profit aside and put our crops, our environment and our health first. In actual fact, it is a WIN/WIN when we work with nature and use natural methods as our crops will be healthier and more resistant to bugs etc. Please make this a priority as our health and our environment is suffering.

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