Last week my farm — which has been in my family for five generations — and the home my grandfather built were completely destroyed in a wildfire that destroyed two other homes and more than 15,000 acres of amphitheaters. it was done. Due to drought, heat and wind caused by climate change, the fire spread faster and hotter. It was exactly what you see on the news in California, but in the unlikely setting of Nebraska’s cattle country.
I’m a volunteer firefighter in the small town of Bluff, Utah, with a population of 150, so I know enough about wildfires to make sure nothing could have saved the farm. Growing up, we never worried about these types of flames. But today the vegetation is drying up, the weather is hot, and these disasters are getting worse.
My family’s story is a brutal example of why rural America needs to prepare for more extreme weather and be part of our collective response to climate change. The good news is that help is coming in the form of the most important piece of legislation currently pending in Congress, the Inflation Reduction Act. The bill could be a real economic winner for rural communities, but only if passed and implemented only when connected to a fly-over land connection.
First, the law will invest $20 billion in family farmers and ranchers, the backbone of our rural economy. This will create opportunities to improve soil health, increase crop yields, reduce fertilizer costs, increase resilience to extreme weather conditions, and diversify income streams. These farming methods can improve farmers’ bottom lines and are also good for air and water quality.
Second, there are tremendous cost savings for rural America by funding utility co-ops to invest in affordable, renewable energy by $10 billion. This would allow co-ops in rural New Mexico to follow the path blazed by the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative — which powers 42 million people, including 92 percent of counties experiencing persistent poverty.
With many utilities raising costs, Kit Carson announced in July that it would reduce customers’ energy bills by up to 25 percent. As? Beginning this summer, 100 percent of the cooperative’s daily energy will come directly from the sun, thanks to their foresight in building solar in their community. The anti-inflation law will make it much easier for other co-ops to do the same and get the money back into their customers’ bank accounts.
In addition to these investments, the bill will provide tools to reduce energy and transportation costs for rural households and small businesses. The average homeowner can save $1,800 each year by taking advantage of the bill’s incentives for efficiency gains, electric vehicles, and solar power. There’s also $40 billion for U.S. manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and critical minerals that bring high-paying jobs home to help rural communities suffering from outsourcing.
Finally, back to wildfire. Anyone who has lost their farm, ranch or home knows the economic and emotional impact. Insurance may not cover the actual costs to homeowners or our economy as a whole. This bill will invest $5 billion in sustainable forest management to help others prevent my family’s wealth from suffering. But we know the risks of droughts and floods wiping out crops, along with wildfires — and they will continue to worsen as the planet warms.
Ultimately, rural communities can be a barrier to climate action or a key team player driving our collective success. The Inflation Reduction Act is a major step forward to empower rural climate politicians and advance our national climate goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 44 percent. All of this without raising taxes for hard-working Americans, family farmers, or small businesses. Instead, companies are prevented from using loopholes to avoid their fair share.
There’s more to an invoice worth supporting. It reduces our federal deficit, fights inflation by lowering energy and healthcare bills, and helps millions of Americans save money on prescription drugs. But my thoughts are with my family’s farm and I don’t want anyone else to go through what we did last week.
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The ability of these investments to change our climate change journey depends on supporting rural people to take advantage of and implement the opportunities this law offers. This is a real problem because decades of divestments have left rural areas with little ability to steer federal funding processes and programs.
Our representatives in government and in the philanthropic community must ensure that rural communities are at the center of our collective solution to climate change. Fire and its effects have spread throughout our communities, and the path to climate protection cuts right through rural America.
Josh Ewing is Director of the Rural Climate Partnership, which aims to activate rural-led solutions to climate change. He is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT in the small town of Bluff, Utah.