The US finally has a law to tackle climate change

October 1, 2022
Climate Change
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After 18 months of haggling and will-they or won’t-they news cycles, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law at the White House on Tuesday. “This bill is the biggest step forward on climate ever,” he told a room full of supporters at the signing. “Ever.”

Biden might be right that it is one of the most significant climate investments made by the US, and even in the world. The newly minted Iaw contains $369 billion in funding for clean energy and electric vehicle tax breaks, domestic manufacturing of batteries and solar panels, and pollution reduction.

If its policies work as intended, it would push American consumers and industry away from reliance on fossil fuels, penalize fossil fuel companies for excess emissions of methane, and inject needed funds into pollution cleanup. “This law finally delivers on promises Washington has made for decades to the American people,” Biden said Tuesday.

The IRA uses tax credits to incentivize consumers to buy electric cars, electric HVAC systems, and other forms of cleaner technology, leading to less emissions from cars and electricity generation, and includes incentives for companies to manufacture that technology in the United States. It also includes money for a host of other climate priorities, like investing in forest and coastal restoration and in resilient agriculture.

These investments, spread out over the next decade, are likely to cut pollution by around 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to three separate analyses by economic modelers at Rhodium GroupEnergy Innovation, and Princeton University. The legislation helps move the US a little closer to its stated goal of cutting pollution in half within the decade.

The main climate change components of the Inflation Reduction Act look surprisingly similar to the version the House passed last fall, a measure widely celebrated by climate activists — although it’s smaller than the $2 trillion the Biden administration once envisioned. To win Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) support, Democrats added provisions that clear permitting roadblocks for some fossil fuel projects and force the Department of Interior to hold more offshore oil lease sales.

Manchin intends to introduce a separate bill that would speed up permitting for energy infrastructure, clearing a hurdle for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to carry fracked gas 300 miles through West Virginia. There’s no guarantee it will pass, because it has to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Even with these concessions, a climate agreement that preserves tens of billions of dollars for clean energy and pollution cleanup was unimaginable just weeks ago. And the impact on overall pollution outweighs the emissions generated by the pro-fossil fuel pieces by about 24 to 1, according to Energy Innovation’s analysis.

“Total game changer” for the climate was how Leah Stokes — a political scientist at UC Santa Barbara who has advised Democrats on the reconciliation package — put it.

Most of the Inflation Reduction Act’s investments target climate change

There is plenty the act does that is not about climate change. There’s funding for the Affordable Care Act, the IRS, and prescription drug reform. It also sets a corporate minimum tax — one of the ways the law helps tackle inflation. But this is arguably a climate law, as climate initiatives make up the biggest portion of the act’s investments.

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