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Inflation Reduction Act a breakthrough on climate, but public lands take some hits

People walking along the edge of a lake in the foreground with forested landscape and a tall column of smoke visible in the distance

View of the 2018 Howe Ridge Fire from Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. A 2021 study found high-elevation forests in the central Rocky Mountains are burning more than at any point in the last 2,000 years

NPS, Flicke

Analysis: Bill would cut emissions by at least 40%

On July 27, an international group of scientists announced their findings that the recent brutal heat wave in the UK was made at least 10 times more likely by human-caused climate change. Earlier this summer, the same group said heat that smothered South Asia for months on end was made 30 times more likely by climate change. Right around the same time the UK data were announced, climate change-intensified rain and flooding devastated parts of Kentucky and Missouri, killing dozens of people. 

With that in mind, it’s easier to recognize the Inflation Reduction Act announced by Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as the monumental (and sorely needed) achievement it is. Investing close to $370 billion in renewable energy, environmental justice programs, old-growth forest protections and other measures, it is projected to reduce U.S. climate emissions by 40 percent or more over the next eight years.  

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If passed, it would be the most important climate bill in history by a huge margin. Preliminary analysis has found that this bill puts within reach the U.S.’ 2030 target of reducing emission by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels. Just as important, the bill makes the largest environmental justice investment ever. It creates predictable long-term tax treatment essential for wind and solar companies, and it jump-starts manufacturing of renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles (and the jobs that come with it). Rewiring America estimates that the programs in the bill will save low- and moderate-income households $1,800 per year while stabilizing home energy bills. And it addresses decades-old loopholes in federal lands oil and gas programs that have incentivized rampant speculation.   

The Inflation Reduction Act puts climate emissions reduction targets within reach and makes the largest investment in environmental justice ever.

But as we hail these crucial steps forward, we also need to acknowledge the bill is a compromise and contains many failings and contradictions—indeed, it sometimes works at cross purposes with the goal of advancing a swift, just and equitable renewable energy transformation in the U.S. Most of those sacrifices come at the expense of public lands and waters and the communities that depend on them. 

In a grievous attack on the rights, culture and sacred lands of the Gwich’in and Iñupiat peoples, the Inflation Reduction Act fails to restore protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas leasing. And unfortunately, the bill shackles the investments in renewable energy on public lands to mandates that lock in more leasing for oil and gas.  

While the bill would be a historic leap forward, it has many failings and cannot be the final word on U.S. investment in a safe and sustainable future.

No other lands are suffering the negative impacts of the climate crisis as severely as the Arctic Refuge, which stands on the front lines of climate degradation. We stand with the Gwich’in in calling for the repeal of the oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Here is a breakdown of a few of the bill’s good and bad points. 

The Good:

The Inflation Reduction Act...

  • Invests in environmental justice, including air pollution monitoring; urban tree planting and coastal restoration; energy transition rebates and grants; and environmental and public health reviews on federal projects  

  • Invests in old-growth forest restoration and protection (and in forests’ critical role in carbon storage, clean water and sustaining communities and wildlife

  • Invests in national parks and other public lands, including projects to ensure they are resilient to climate change impacts 

  • Makes oil and gas companies pay significantly more to bid on leases and drill on public lands and waters

  • Makes natural gas companies pay for vented and leaked methane, an extremely potent driver of climate change 

  • Invests in renewable energy development through tax credits, rebates and other incentives for individuals and businesses 

The Bad:

The Inflation Reduction Act...

  • Fails to restore protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, sacred lands of the Gwich’in and Iñupiat peoples 

  • Requires the Department of the Interior to hold oil and gas lease sales on public lands and waters before it can greenlight renewable energy development on these lands and waters 

  • Omits funding to cover the cost of protecting specific public lands from drilling 

  • Omits funding for urban parks and improved access for communities of color and low-income communities cut off from nature by discriminatory policies 

The inflation Reduction Act would be a historic leap forward in fighting climate disruption. But let's be clear: it's a compromise. We must—and we will—continue striving to break our reliance on fossil fuels, particularly mined and drilled from public lands and waters, that leaves many communities and landscapes at increasing risk. But we need action now, and this bill does set us on a path to combatting the climate crisis. It should serve as the starting point and a catalyst for new and concerted climate action and protections for our communities and bedrock conservation laws. 

This bill cannot be the final word on U.S. investment in a safe and sustainable future. We join the Gwich’in Nation’s call on the Senate to amend this bill to repeal the 2017 Tax Act leasing mandate for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and we will continue working with lawmakers and the Biden administration to protect public lands and waters and ensure this bill is the first of many major steps in the climate fight.