USDA sees record interest in conservation and clean energy programs that received funding under 2022 Inflation Reduction Act; more than US$17B--45% of the 10-year total of IRA funding--is available for new and existing programs

Sample article from our Government & Public Policy

WASHINGTON , September 19, 2023 (press release) –

The Department Has Already Invested Significant Resources in Rural America from President Biden’s Historic Inflation Reduction Act

On the heels of the first anniversary of President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has seen record interest in the conservation and clean energy programs that received funding from the law. As a key part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Inflation Reduction Act is the nation’s largest-ever investment to combat climate change.

“With the Inflation Reduction Act, President Biden provided USDA with historic resources to improve the lives of the American people,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It is clear there is a significant appetite among producers and rural communities for clean energy and conservation programs, specifically those that were boosted by the law. I am proud of the swift work USDA has done to create, expand and streamline programs in order to put resources directly into communities.”

The Inflation Reduction Act made nearly $20 billion available over five years for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to address continuous high demand for popular conservation programs. This additional investment will help farmers and ranchers implement expanded conservation practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon storage. Importantly, many of the practices funded under the Inflation Reduction Act provide significant environmental co-benefits for producers outside of their climate mitigation value. Consistent with the direction from Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act, NRCS made available $850 million for these programs in Fiscal Year 2023 and has already seen substantially more interest than funding available under the law. These amounts include both financial assistance that will be included in contracts and agreements, and the technical assistance needed to implement complex on-the-ground conservation systems.

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), for which $250 million was made available, received nearly 9,000 applications totaling nearly $475 million.
  • The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which has $100 million available for 2023, received over $180 million in applications.
  • The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has received nearly 3,700 applications requesting funding that exceeds the available amount of $250 million.
  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), for which $250 million was made available, has received project proposals exceeding $2 billion in funding.

In addition to strong interest in NRCS’s programs, USDA’s Forest Service received $6.4 billion in applications for the Urban and Community Forestry Program, for which $1.5 billion funding was made available in Fiscal Year 2023 under the Inflation Reduction Act to increase tree cover in urban spaces and boost equitable access to nature while bolstering resilience to extreme heat, storm-induced flooding, and other climate impacts. Last week, USDA awarded over $1 billion of this funding to nearly 400 projects in every state across the country.

As of August 2023, USDA has publicly announced the availability of over $17 billion, or 45% of the 10-year total of Inflation Reduction Act funding, for new and existing programs. Additionally, USDA has already put significant resources directly into the pockets of farmers and small business owners. For example, USDA:

  • Provided $1.15 billion to date to over 20,000 distressed direct and guaranteed Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan borrowers, helping them reach long-term stability and operate successful, thriving agricultural businesses.
  • Recently announced 1,234 grants to help thousands of agricultural operations and rural small business owners access clean energy systems and energy efficient improvements through the Inflation Reduction Act resources that bolster the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
  • Awarded $262.5 million to provide training and support to more than 20,000 students that will sustain the next generation of food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences workforce
  • Announced $300 million for 50 selected projects under the Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program, to increase access to farm ownership opportunities, improve results for those with heirs’ property or fractionated land, increase access to markets and capital that affect the ability to access land, and improve land ownership, land succession and agricultural business planning
  • Announced $300 million to improve measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in climate-smart agriculture and forestry.

Additionally, USDA’s Rural Development is moving quickly to give farmers and rural communities relief through clean energy that will lower energy bills and reduce pollution. Demand from rural communities for USDA’s clean energy support is very strong:

  • The Powering Affordable Clean Energy Program (PACE), for which $1 billion was made available, has so far received over $7.6 billion in applications – which represents more than 660% more interest received than available funding – in Fiscal Year 2023 to fund new clean energy projects and energy storage in rural America.
  • The Empowering Rural America Program (New ERA), for which $9.7 billion was made available, recently closed its application window and will release more information as it processes proposals. It received interest from member-owned electric cooperatives in over 40 states and Puerto Rico to help transition to clean, affordable, and reliable energy.

Consistent with the direction from Congress, USDA has allocated all Inflation Reduction Act funds, which total nearly $38 billion over 10 years, for spending under programs that invest in communities and producers nationwide. USDA agencies responsible for implementing the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act have worked diligently and efficiently to expand existing programs and create new funding opportunities while undergoing a rigorous review of their spending plans by USDA’s Office of Budget and Program Analysis.

These investments made through the Inflation Reduction Act are powering the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to make USDA programs more inclusive, accessible and available to more people than ever before so that their benefits are felt for generations to come. Many of these programs are also part of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which is advancing environmental justice by ensuring that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments reach disadvantaged communities that are marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.

For more information on the USDA’s implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, visit: www.usda.gov/ira

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

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Dan Rivard
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