Republican dysfunction in Washington won’t stop clean energy progress in 2023
Recently, Gov. Tim Walz signed a 100 percent clean energy standard into law. The law requires Minnesota to transition to carbon free electricity by 2040, and secures my home state’s position as a national leader in the clean energy transition. That will create new good paying jobs, reduce pollution that’s harmful to our health and the climate, and provide more affordable and reliable electricity for Minnesota families.
Meanwhile in Washington, Republicans have taken the House of Representatives. They previewed their dysfunctional approach with days of infighting that delayed the start of the new Congress. They continued the theatrics by heckling President Biden during the State of the Union. While the drama has made for gripping C-SPAN, it’s not a great sign for those of us who want new congressional action on climate, energy, or any serious problem during the next two years.
And yet, I am optimistic for this year and beyond. I think that 2022 was an inflection point. It was the year when Congress finally got serious by passing the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, by far the biggest climate law we’ve ever passed and the first that scales to the size of the problem.
Expert analysis suggests that the incentives in the new climate law can get us most of the way to our national goal of a 50 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. A new report by Evergreen Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) details how states and the Biden administration can further leverage the law to power towards the president’s climate and clean energy goals, while creating good American jobs, building domestic supply chains, and targeting benefits to low-income and polluted neighborhoods and communities that rely on traditional fossil energy jobs.
We’re already seeing it work. For example, solar manufacturing is growing rapidly, including at a plant on Minnesota’s Iron Range, and the climate law provided the final push for a massive solar installation to help replace Minnesota’s largest coal power plant, a facility that was already set to retire. And just last month, a new multi-billion dollar solar manufacturing plant was announced in Georgia. It will employ 2,500 Americans, and has been celebrated by politicians of all stripes—even those that voted against the law that made it possible!
As for what comes next: I fully expect the crazy political show from House Republicans to slow down our work in Congress as they spout false rhetoric to try to stop the clean energy transition, but progress will still be made in the real world. The work that we Democrats — helped at times by moderate Republican allies — accomplished on climate and clean energy in the last two years will pay dividends this year and beyond to help us build an energy system that is cleaner, cheaper and more reliable than the one we have today.
With or without the partnership of our colleagues across the aisle, the U.S. will make progress on climate and clean energy. It will take a lot of work, but here’s how we will do it:
- Implementing the climate law. The president signing a bill into law isn’t the end of the work that needs to be done. It takes time for agencies to set up programs and create the guidelines needed to make the law a reality. Starting this month, individuals can cash in on incentives, like tax breaks to help homeowners install solar panels and batteries, buy clean and electric vehicles, and increase their home’s efficiency. But continued public engagement and congressional oversight of agencies will be important to making sure every provision in this law provides its maximum benefit to families, communities and our economy.
- Strengthening clean air standards. Properly implementing the new climate law is vital, but on its own, it is expected to fall short of the Biden administration’s goal of an 80 percent clean electric sector by 2030. New modeling by NRDC shows that if the Biden administration rapidly implements ambitious new rules reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the U.S. can reach a 76 percent clean electric sector by 2030 while dramatically reducing other pollutants that injure the health of millions of Americans.
- Taking state-level action. The 2022 elections brought division to Washington, but voters in Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland united their state governments with Democratic majorities that are poised to charge forward on climate. As we enter a world where electricity will do more and more to move us around, heat our homes, and run our factories, states like Minnesota will serve as leaders and blueprints for other states.
I have long said that the clean energy transition is going to happen. The only question is whether we want to lead or follow. Recently, Fatih Birol from the International Energy Agency declared that the moment to decide is now: “We are entering a new industrial age—the age of clean energy technology manufacturing. This will create new markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs this decade.” The dysfunctional Republican playbook would have us back down and let other countries lead this transition. My choice, however, is to lead.
Tina Smith is the junior senator from Minnesota.
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