Energy & Environment

Biden secures climate legacy with Inflation Reduction Act, say activists

AP-Susan Walsh
President Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Climate activists are clamoring for Biden to declare a national climate emergency, calls the White House so far has not heeded.

President Biden is enacting climate action at a previously unprecedented scale in the United States and establishing a significant environmental legacy in signing the Inflation Reduction Act, say climate advocates.

Biden, during his first year in office, pledged to cut U.S. emissions that lead to climate change in half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. 

On Tuesday, he signed a bill that is expected to go a long way toward reaching that goal.

“Decades from now, this will be remembered as a turning point in federal policy on climate change. This is the first real, big bill,” said Jamal Raad, executive director of environmental group Evergreen Action. 

Three recent analyses find the bill would lower U.S. emissions by 2030 to between 37 and 41 percent, 32 and 42 percent, and 42 percent below 2005 levels. 

The legislation includes nearly $370 billion toward energy security and climate change mitigation. This is about four times as large as the $90 billion for clean energy in the Obama administration’s Recovery Act. 

“As somebody who’s been working for two decades trying to push Congress and various administrations to take climate change seriously and enact climate action, today’s a big day. It’s a BFD,” Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club, told The Hill on Tuesday. 

The U.S. is a major climate change contributor, behind only China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Without the package, it would be difficult for the U.S. to get anywhere near Biden’s goals. And the lack of U.S. action could also create a disincentive for other countries to enact reforms, said University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Mann.

“It gets us close to our own pledge to lower carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030, which is consistent with limiting warming below 1.5 [degrees Celsius] and, most importantly, the reassertion of American leadership is likely to spur other countries to up their own commitments in service of that goal,” Mann, the author of “The New Climate War,” told The Hill via email. 

The new law includes tax credits that incentivize a clean energy buildout, other credits that incentivize energy efficient homes and buildings, and a policy that seeks to limit the release of planet-warming methane from oil and gas operations. 

“We’ve had tax credits for clean energy and they’ve come and gone,” said Robbie Orvis, senior director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation, a think tank that modeled the bill’s climate impacts. 

“But we haven’t really had a comprehensive, across the suite of clean energy technologies — a long-term clean energy tax credit regime that provides business certainty so that companies can invest in the technologies and research and development and supply chains to really grow the clean energy industry across all the sectors of the economy,” Orvis said. 

He added that the bill is also expected to help move the country closer to another Biden goal: carbon-free power by 2035. But to reach 100 percent clean power, Orvis said other mechanisms in addition to the tax credits will likely be needed. 

Much more work in general needs to be done to reduce climate change, and while activists were praising the bill being signed on Tuesday, they are cognizant of the road ahead.

“Climate will be a legacy issue for this president and this Congress. We know that this is big; we know it’s not big enough and that there’s more to do,” Raad said.

Parts of the new bill will actually increase U.S. emissions.

It contains provisions tying the future of clean energy development on publicly owned land and waters to continued fossil fuel drilling, and requires the Interior Department to auction off more parcels in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling.

These provisions were inserted as Democrats worked to get Sen. Joe Manchin (D) – from fossil-heavy West Virginia —  on board. 

To meet Biden’s goal of cutting emissions in half, other policies will also likely be needed. 

Raad said there needs to be additional moves from the federal government as well as state and local governments. 

“We need to move aggressively on federal executive action like … using the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions,” he said, noting that states should do things like adopting clean power standards and building regulations. 

On the whole, the legislation’s passage and signing is expected to give Biden a big win on climate. 

“Biden campaigned on addressing the climate crisis. He got young folks and progressives to vote for him in substantial part on the basis of his climate promises,” Mann said. “I think he understood that his legacy would be defined by what he does on climate. And he used every diplomatic bone in his body, drawing upon decades of deal-making in the U.S. Senate, to get the ball across the finish line.”

Pierce said she also gives much of the credit to Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who reached a deal with Manchin to make it possible. 

“Certainly the president was an early advocate and someone who was pressing for action from Congress, but at the end of the day, certainly, it was the dogged determination of Chuck Schumer sitting in a room hammering out a deal that could pass muster with Manchin and yet still be incredibly significant,” she said.

Tags Biden Climate change Electric vehicles Inflation Reduction Act Jamal Raad Joe Biden Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Melinda Pierce Michael Mann

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