August 2, 2022
The Inflation Reduction Act
What began, in July, as a possible executive order to deal with climate change mitigation is now, in August, ending as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. President Biden was pressured to go forth with an executive order under the National Emergencies Act. This rush to encourage the president to declare a climate emergency came after recent extreme weather events. It focused on these deadly heat waves of 100°F over extended periods, here in the U.S. and in Europe. Also cited along was the drought and fires in the western states and also the disastrous flooding in eastern Kentucky. Europe suffered a lot damage from wildfires, including, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Poland and other eastern European counties. The opinions of most climate and meteorological experts and most other knowledgeable climate resources left no doubt that climate change is responsible and that it is getting more dangerous.
It was on July 20 when President Biden spoke at the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts to declare the urgency of climate change. Environmentalists thought it would have been the opportunity to use his presidential powers to place the United States on a decent path toward climate change mitigation. He would just need to declare a climate emergency and the rest would have been up to his environmental staff. The Senate’s use of filibuster, the conservative Supreme Court that “legislates from the bench”, and Senator Joe Manchin’s attitude toward doing nothing about lowering atmospheric greenhouse gases have made it virtually impossible for the Democrats to pass any kind of meaningful legislation. The corporate stranglehold on the Republican Party since the 1990s and now, Trumpism, is keeping serious climate change legislation off the negotiation table – until now. That July suspense is now over.
On Wednesday, July, 27, Senator Manchin (D-WV), who under great pressure, had a measured change of heart and joined discussions with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and his staff. Their task was to deal with this difficult climate emergency situation and to ease the country’s inflationary burdens. The result is called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA). It was a lengthy, hard-fought struggle between the two senators. It also reflects Manchin’s close ties to the fossil fuel industry. The 50th senator needed to pass the bill was Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who made her deal-making changes by eliminating taxes for “carried interest” on wealthy investor incomes, which also reflects her ties to big money.
Despite the bill’s name, it is clearly based on Biden’s “Build Back Better” and at least partly from the Green New Deal (GND). It was meant to steer the country into a new energy system and help working people in a changing economy. With that in mind, here is the way the first draft shaped up at the end of their efforts:
- A huge climate change provision in the form of tax credits would encourage power-related companies to invest in clean energy.
- Provides tax credits for consumers: $7,500 to buy a new electric vehicle (EV) and $4,000 for a used EV.
- More tax credits, especially for those of lower incomes, to electrify home appliances, heat pumps, rooftop solar, and solar water heaters.
- Stopping methane leaks with increasing fees starting at $900/ton rising to $1,500/ton. The fees would mostly be levied on oil and gas companies.
- It will double the tax on coal from mines. (Manchin was OK with this.)
To bring Manchin onboard, these following giveaways had to be part of the final draft:
- The bill makes a link between renewable energy and fossil fuel development, where the number of allowed wind farms would depend on the number of allowable offshore oil permits. (Very disturbing.)
- Solar farms approved only if fracking on public lands is approved. (Also, very disturbing.)
- A speedup in approving gas pipelines, especially the Mountain Valley Pipeline, from West Virginia to Virginia. (Negotiated here but will be done in a separate bill.)
- It would require opening drilling lease permits in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska.
- The Civilian Climate Corps is to be terminated. It’s a Biden program based on FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps of the Depression Era, that was part of Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the GND to create jobs.
- Investments in hydrogen power using fracked gas instead of green-hydrogen (cleaner hydrogen).
- Creation of a market for carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is a favorite of oil companies.
Other benefits that have more to do with reducing inflation, health care and taxing the rich:
- The bill would reduce prescription drugs by allowing Medicare, for the first time, to negotiate prices of drugs with drug makers.
- It extends the Affordable Care Act premium subsidies until 2025, making health care less for low-income people.
- A corporate minimum tax of 15%.
- Funding to expand Internal Revenue Service audits for ensuring companies pay their share of taxes.
The bill, at this first stage, per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, provided roughly $370 billion in climate and clean energy tax breaks and about $300 billion in deficit reduction. It would reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2040. The U.S. goal was 50% reduction by 2030, along with the EU and other developed nations. The details in each item leave room for adjustments as provisions are implemented making it easier to reach the final goals or zero emissions by 2050. This looks like the goals could become more possible in that regard as the IRA settles into place.
The IRA, as of this writing, is undergoing reconciliation, which eliminates a filibuster and allows the Senate and House to debate and add addendums. After Senator Manchin’s “adjustments”, it got mixed acceptance from some activists and environmentalists – too many fossil fuel company giveaways. Others hailed it as a milestone and full of worthy climate mitigation efforts. It is believed the investments in renewable energy should more than outweigh the give-aways to oil companies and pressure the fossil fuel industry to make clean energy the viable source for the country and the world.
The bill was passed in the Senate on Sunday, August 7. Since all 50 Republicans voted against the bill it took all 50 Democratic senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote to pass. At this stage, on August 7, it was amended by the Senate. It still stands with approximately $370 billion for climate change, $64 billion in health care expenditures and still has enough savings to reduce the deficit by about $300 billion.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works provided this breakdown, which is full of details: Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 – U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and here’s the lengthy Section-by-Section link.
It’s a tremendously significant bill put together in an amazingly short time and especially to be passed by today’s Congress. It’s very extensive in nature, will make the economic transition to renewable energy, and will ease the nation and workers through that process. It could have done more but this was the best feasible result. It’s the most significant legislation to pass the Senate in a long time and we should celebrate this as a huge success despite its imperfections. It could be the plan that other countries have been waiting for from the U.S. Instead of holding the world back, this could very well be the impetus the world needs to move forward in fighting climate change.
The House votes on the bill, probably before Friday, August 12 and is expected to pass.
Sources of Bay Area Activities and Events
Friends of the Earth – located at the David Brower Center, Berkeley.
350BayArea – Includes other 350.org branches in the Bay Area.
Planet Drum – San Francisco bio-region awareness center.
Ecology Center – Berkeley sustainability center.
David Brower Center – The environmental center in Berkeley.
Sunflower Alliance – Bay Area umbrella organization for activism.
Sierra Club San Francisco Bay – Bay Area website.