Spotting carbon removal in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The bipartisan infrastructure deal delivers support for carbon removal within a significantly negotiated package
Much negotiation over the last several months has culminated in the bipartisan infrastructure deal, signed into law as H.R.3684, the Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The $1.2 trillion deal includes $550 billion in new spending over the next five years focused on grey and green infrastructure — meaning both land-based and tech-based carbon removal provisions made the cut.
The infrastructure deal delivers wins for carbon removal despite significant cuts to other important social spending. The package’s counterpart, the Build Back Better Act (BBBA), is still being negotiated, but is critical if we are going to meaningfully address the climate crisis and compounding racial and social injustice. Scaling up equitable carbon removal calls for a significant reinvestment into research and regulation, fair economic mobilization, responsible infrastructure build out, and dedicated support for frontline communities. Together, the IIJA and BBBA can achieve this.
So, what’s in the bill?
The splashiest carbon removal provision are the four regional direct air capture (DAC) hubs planned across the US. A whopping $3.5 billion was set aside to create hubs that will each have the capacity to capture at least 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year — an order of magnitude higher than the 10,000 tons currently being removed and stored around the world. Although relatively new to the carbon removal field, hubs have been used by DOE for over a decade to foster innovation with a multidisciplinary approach.
The DAC Prize program, recently authorized in the Energy Act of 2020, was also fully funded by the infrastructure package, providing $100 million for commercial-scale projects and $15 million for pre-commercial projects. Considering that just a few years ago the US government had spent about $11 million on DAC (ever), this is a massive investment.
Transportation and Storage Infrastructure
In addition to increasing capture capacity, the IIJA supports funding for transportation and storage of CO2. The IIJA makes an important down payment by passing S.799, the SCALE Act, which provides $4.6 billion for critical infrastructure for DAC, including transportation pipelines.
The EPA’s Class VI program is responsible for the oversight and permitting of underground CO2 storage. Today, it’s severely underfunded, but the infrastructure package plusses up the program by $5 million annually for five years, with $50 million at the state level in recognition of the role they play in local well management and regulation.
Reaching gigaton-scale carbon removal and standing up the regional DAC hubs depends on storing and transporting large volumes of carbon — which must be done responsibly and equitably. There is a lot of work ahead to shape where hubs will be sited, who will be involved in decision-making, and what regulations will protect and uplift surrounding communities. With support from the BBBA to build local capacity and engage with communities, these investments in carbon removal infrastructure can be foundational.
Reforestation & Forest Restoration
Trees are infrastructure — and the $8 billion carved out in the IIJA makes that clear. The package addresses wildfire resilience, ecosystem restoration, and forest carbon management, providing a fairly comprehensive influx of support for forest carbon removal. Specifically, the bill appropriates $200 million to reforest abandoned mineland and an additional $200 million for tribal reforestation priorities. S.866, the REPLANT Act, was also passed, unlocking $123 million yearly at the Forest Service to plant 1.2 billion trees over the next 10 years while addressing the backlog on national forest land. We’ve seen the worst wildfires, pest outbreaks, and drought dieback across the US over the past few years, and reforestation is desperately needed.
Expanding capacity of tree nurseries and seed extactories has been a long standing Carbon180 priority, reinforced by a recent study that showed production must be more than doubled to reforest 66 million acres of available land by 2040. In a nod to this seedling shortage, the bill creates a national strategy to improve tree nursery capacity and meet accelerated planting demand. Healthy Streets is also a newly authorized planting program that couples urban trees with other technologies like porous pavements to decrease the urban heat island effect.
In addition to reforestation, the IIJA supports a broad scope of forest restoration and resilience efforts, including $2.57 billion for post-fire recovery and burned areas and $100 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program. The bill’s provisions focus on public lands, despite the unlocked carbon removal potential on private lands. Realizing all of the benefits of forest carbon management requires support for private landowners and investment in science, and we hope the BBBA will soon deliver those wins for climate research and practice implementation.
A major investment in carbon removal that needs a second act
Billions of dollars have now been allocated to carbon removal — a massive jump from a few million when Carbon180 was founded in 2015. The investment marks a shift in the field as we begin to move from program authorization and deployment funding to implementation and rulemaking. This is where rubber meets the road: now we need to establish guidelines, build agency staffing, and disburse these funds at the federal, state, Tribal, and local level in a timely manner.
However, work is not done for Congress — there are major provisions still needed to scale equitable carbon removal and we hope the BBBA will deliver. Reconciliation can support climate-smart agriculture efforts, plus up USDA conservation programs, raise 45Q credit value for DAC to dedicated geologic storage, and invest in RD&D across pathways, in addition to dedicated support for frontline communities.
The next chapter for carbon removal must include all that the Build Back Better Act can offer, ensuring carbon removal is science-based, equitable, and designed for scale.