Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash
Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash

Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act into law

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law today — the administration’s most aggressive attempt to combat climate change thus far. This is historic, as it is the most significant climate bill in U.S. history. 

“For a while people doubted whether any of that was going to happen, but we are in a season of substance,” Biden told the assembled audience. Sure!

The bill is significantly smaller than what the Biden Administration initially envisioned, but it’s still forecasted to reduce emissions 40 percent by the end of the decade — a meaningful victory for climate activists in an otherwise grim legislative environment.

It allocates nearly $370 billion in climate spending and tax incentives, $60 billion of which will go to communities most impacted by environmental injustice. Should everything go as planned, it essentially puts the United States on the path it should’ve began in the 90’s, offering rebates to consumers to green their homes and buy electric vehicles, as well as incentivizing clean energy development. 

“Like many others in this space, I am cautiously optimistic,” Smitha Rao, an assistant professor at Ohio State University told Currently via e-mail. “The US has a long way to go and this is the bare minimum. We cannot pat ourselves on the back and pretend we have nearly done all we could to tackle the climate crisis. Where the bill is promising, is the pathway toward a transformation of the energy sector and to ensure energy justice through investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.” 

What the bill doesn’t do is significantly temper the power of the fossil fuel industry. The IRA revives offshore leasing in the Gulf, for example, an issue the Biden Administration has been struggling with for months, and requires the government to auction oil and gas leases before they’re able to auction space for wind and solar.

 “The bill’s big money for renewable energy is important to decarbonize, but unfortunately it’s tied to oil and gas expansion that is devastating for the climate and frontline communities,” Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity told Currently. “This is a devil’s bargain that handcuffs even one offshore wind project to offering up 60 million acres of federal waters for offshore drilling. The deal makes sacrifice zones of the Gulf, Appalachia, and the Arctic. These fossil fuel giveaways are incompatible with protecting people and our planet.” 

To be fair to the bill’s boosters, it is better than nothing and it does set a precedent — by tying low prescription drug costs and enhanced ACA subsidies to a climate bill — for thinking about climate change in social rather than simply scientific terms. Any meaningful climate legislation needs to be tied to an expansion of social services, especially for frontline communities. Still, as Siegel points out, “Even the bill’s biggest supporters acknowledge that it is not enough.”

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