Why the Inflation Control Act is an economic winner for rural America
Last week, my family’s farm—which we’ve owned for five generations—and the house my grandfather built were completely destroyed in a wildfire that killed two other homes and over 15,000 acres of pasture. The fire spread fast and hot due to the drought caused by climate change, heat and wind. It was just like the California wildfires you see on the news, but in an unlikely location for cattle country in Nebraska.
I’m a volunteer firefighter in the small town of Bluff, Utah of 150 people, so I know enough about wildfires to make sure nothing could save the farm. Growing up, we never worried about these kinds of fires. But today the vegetation is drier, the weather is hotter and these disasters are an increasingly frequent reality.
My family’s story is a brutal example of why rural America has to prepare for more severe weather and be part of our collective response to climate change. The good news is that the help comes in the form of key legislation currently pending in Congress, the Inflation Reduction Act. A bill can be a real economic winner for rural communities, but only if it is passed and only if it is implemented with the participation of the state flying above it.
First, the bill would invest $20 billion in family farmers and ranchers, the backbone of our rural economies. This will create opportunities to improve soil health, increase crop yields, reduce fertilizer costs, increase resilience to harsh weather, and diversify sources of income. These farming practices can improve the bottom line for farmers and are good for air and water quality as well.
Second, there are significant cost savings for rural America by funding $10 billion for electricity cooperatives to invest in cheap, renewable energy. This will enable the cooperatives—which supply 42 million people with electricity, including 92 percent of persistent poverty counties—to follow the path taken by Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in rural New Mexico.
With many energy suppliers raising costs, Kit Carson announced in July that it would cut customers’ energy bills by up to 25 percent. How? Starting this summer, 100 percent of the co-op’s daytime power will come directly from the sun, thanks to their insight into building solar power generation in their community. The Inflation Reduction Act will make it easier for other cooperatives to do the same and return money to their customers’ bank accounts.
Besides these investments, the bill will provide tools for rural families and small businesses to cut energy and transportation costs. The average homeowner can save $1,800 each year by taking advantage of bill incentives for efficiency upgrades, electric vehicles, and solar power. There is also $40 billion for US manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and critical minerals, providing well-paying jobs to help rural communities that have suffered from outsourcing.
Finally, back to the wildfire. Anyone who has lost a farm, ranch, or home knows the economic and emotional impact. Insurance cannot cover the true costs of homeowners or our broader economy. The bill would invest $5 billion in sustainable forests to help prevent others from suffering my family’s fate. But we know the dangers of wildfires as well as droughts and floods that wipe out crops – and they will continue to get worse as the planet warms.
Ultimately, rural communities can be an obstacle to climate progress or a critical collective player that advances our mutual success. The Reduce Inflation Act is a major step to empowering rural climate leaders and advancing our national climate goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 44 percent. All this without raising taxes on hard-working Americans, family farmers, or small businesses. Instead, it prevents companies from using loopholes to avoid paying their fair share.
There are a lot of other things about the bill that are worth supporting. It reduces our federal deficit, fights inflation by lowering energy and health care costs, as well as helping millions of Americans save money on prescription drugs. But my mind is on my family’s farm and how I don’t want anyone else to go through what we did last week.
The potential for these investments to transform our course on climate change depends on whether or not rural people are supported in accessing and implementing the opportunities that this law provides. This is a real problem, as decades of underinvestment has left rural areas with little ability to navigate federal funding operations and programs.
Our representatives in government and the philanthropic community must ensure that rural communities are central to our collective solutions to climate change. Fire and its effects have spread to our societies, and the path to climate progress runs directly through rural America.
Josh Ewing is director of the Rural Climate Partnership, which seeks to revitalize rural-led solutions on climate. He is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT, based in the small town of Bluff, Utah.