The U.S. Senate on Sunday advanced a major funding package aimed at addressing climate change through a series of incentives, including expanding farm bill conservation programs and extending biofuel tax provisions.
The $740 billion legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, passed on a party-line vote after Democrats revived negotiations over President Biden's previously-shelved climate, tax and social spending plan. It now heads to the House, which is expected to take up the bill Friday.
"I am really confident that the Inflation Reduction Act will endure as one of the defining feats of the 21st Century," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the vote. "The Senate has now passed the most significant bill to fight the climate crisis ever."
Other than significant federal investments in renewable energy and other methods to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the package also makes changes to existing healthcare policy and the tax code.
The former includes a provision to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and an extension of expiring Affordable Care Act subsidies, while the latter features a 15% minimum tax on corporations and a new excise tax on stock buybacks.
Also central to the legislation is $40 billion for ag-related initiatives, with about half of the funding — $18 billion — going toward four existing and long oversubscribed USDA conservation programs.
Specifically, the bill allocates $8.45 billion to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); $4.95 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP); $3.25 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); and $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
Starting in fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1, EQIP, RCPP and CSP would each receive $250 million, while ACEP would get $100 million.
Another $1 billion would go to USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service for conservation technical assistance, with NRCS receiving an additional $300 million to track and measure the impact of ag practices on greenhouse gas emissions.
"America's farmers, ranchers and forest land owners can look forward to more support and help as they continue to be the stewards of our private land and forests by virtue of the Senate vote today," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote on Twitter Sunday.
Senate Democrats also included in the bill around $14 billion for rural development funds, which are intended to boost clean energy and stimulate economic growth.
Anchoring those provisions is $9.7 billion in grants and loans for rural electric cooperatives to pursue renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; $1 billion in forgivable loans for other rural renewable energy projects and about $2 billion for USDA's Rural Energy for America Program.
Rural electric cooperatives investing in renewables would also receive direct payments for renewable energy tax credits.
“With the passage of this historic bill, Americans will see their energy costs go down while we tackle the urgent threats we face every day from the climate crisis,” Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a statement.
“We are equipping farmers, foresters and rural communities with the necessary tools to be a part of the solution," Stabenow said. "At the same time, we are investing in good-paying clean energy jobs to grow small towns and rural economies.”
And the bill would provide more funding for the production and use of biofuels, with $500 million to build and expand blending, distribution and other ethanol and biodiesel infrastructure.
The $1-per-gallon tax credit for biomass-based diesel would be extended through 2024 and then substituted in 2025 by a clean fuels tax credit, which would vary based on the carbon rating of the biofuel.
Sustainable aviation fuel would get a temporary tax credit while the clean fuels credit, to be in place through 2027, is implemented.
Republicans and national ag groups, including American Farm Bureau Federation, largely opposed the package.
“Farmers and ranchers support voluntary, market-driven programs that help the environment while ensuring farms remain economically sustainable,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.
“Farm Bureau has serious concerns about the proposed increase in taxes on American businesses at a time when the country is entering a recession," Duvall said. "We strongly encourage lawmakers to focus on policy that directly addresses record-high input costs, spurs economic growth and addresses inflation that is crushing the pocketbooks of America’s families.”