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Who are the Inflation Reduction Act winners?
A clear victory for the Democratic Party, but not necessarily the climate movement
PRESENTED BY THE STAGE OF BARGAINING
On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote in her role as the President of the Senate to approve the landmark Inflation Reduction Act. The House will vote on the bill on Friday. And Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) “permitting reform” package is expected to be attached to must-pass legislation later this fall, unless the climate movement and progressives organize to defy the Democratic leadership who accepted Manchin’s terms.
The IRA, an all-in bet on the tools of extractive capital to tackle climate pollution, is a clear victory for the Democratic Party, cleantech, the fossil-fuel industry, private equity, miners, and battery makers.
“The Senate has now passed the most significant bill to fight the climate crisis ever, and it’s going to make a difference to my grandkids. The world will be a better place for my grandchildren because of what we did today,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “And that makes me feel very, very good.”
“Now I can look my kids in the eye,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told the Washington Post, “and say we’re really doing something about climate.” World Resources Institute president Ani Dasgupta called the bill “a victory for all Americans.” White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy is rhetorically “dancing in the streets.”
The League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power have launched a $100,000 ad buy lauding senators for passing the bill, thanking everyone from Schumer to Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Whether the all-of-the-above bonanza of the IRA is, in fact, a victory for the climate movement is much more a matter of debate.
“Insofar as there is something that can be called a climate movement, the IRA is a product of its success,” Kate Aronoff writes. “It’s also a massive betrayal.”
The Inflation Reduction Act—the first piece of climate policy to pass the Senate ever—is a historic achievement and vitally important given that Democrats may not get to govern again for a decade. It also consigns more people to living next to more fossil fuel infrastructure for longer; in many cases, that means consigning more people—predominantly poor people, Black people, and brown people—to disease and death.
As part of its all-of-the-above approach, the bill forces through oil and gas lease sales that were rejected by by judges or the Biden administration in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, ties renewable leases to fossil-fuel leases, offers new tax breaks to oil and gas industry, and pushes new domestic mining.
“This new bill is genocide, there is no other way to put it,” said Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. “This is a life or death situation and the longer we act as though the world isn’t on fire around us, the worse our burns will be.”
Quite frankly, as a black woman currently holding my sleeping black child, I simply cannot say that another bill that treats black, brown, and indigenous lives again as the price of admission for domestic, political progress is something where the good outweighs the bad.
Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, is among the many critics of the IRA’s massively expanded 45Q carbon-capture credit, which modelers project will provide about one-fifth of the bill’s pollution reductions. Even scientists working on carbon capture consider the IRA’s carbon-capture bet “techno-optimism: Someone will figure it out somehow, and we’ll be saved.”
Although Senate Democrats claimed the bill has $60 billion for environmental justice priorities, Sylvia Chi, a senior strategist on federal policies and financing for Just Solutions Collective, “found just $47.5 billion in the bill.” Furthermore, Giniw Collective founder Tara Houska asks, “if our communities are underwater or if our air is poisoned and we’ve got pipelines and mines and all the things that are destroying our lands actively, how is some investments in block grants supposed to help us?”
Environmental justice policy expert Anthony Rogers-Wright resigned Monday from the advisory board of Evergreen Action, with a furious criticism of the role the organization played in promoting the Inflation Reduction Act as a victory for the climate movement, singling out Evergreen’s senior policy advisor Dr. Leah Stokes’ “toxic” engagement with “Black and Indigenous women and other climate and environmental justice leaders” as “a manifestation of the racism and white privilege that prevents the climate community from becoming a climate movement.”
The IRA includes a methane pollution fee, one of the the only punitive measures in the bill, but it will only apply to a fraction of frackers. And, as Bloomberg’s Zach Mider reports, “companies have broad leeway to decide how much pollution they report, based on how they interpret more than 100 pages of complex agency rules.” The Environmental Protection Agency has been drastically undercounting methane pollution, and the problem is getting worse. Mider reveals that fracking giants including BP, Range Resources, Coterra Energy, Colorado’s Terra Energy, and Arkansas’ Flywheel Energy have “solved” their methane pollution problem by simply lying about it.
Meanwhile, Emily Atkin and Popular Information have been digging into the GOP dark-money front group United for Clean Power, which has been running ads on Politico and Facebook disingenuously attacking the Inflation Reduction Act from the left.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden spent Monday in flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky. At a briefing at the Marie Roberts Elementary School in Lost Creek, Biden said he would do whatever it takes to help. “I promise you, if it’s legal, we’ll do it,” he said. “And if it’s not legal, we’ll figure out how to change the law.”
Neither Biden nor Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, acknowledged the role of the region’s many abandoned coal strip mines in fueling the destructive floods, both by destabilizing the mountains and through their greenhouse pollution.
Record rainfall Friday trigged flash floods at Death Valley National Park that swept away cars, closed all roads and stranded hundreds of visitors and workers. Firefighters rescued at least 19 people in Denver after flash floods turned roadways into rivers Sunday night. Extreme heat is paralyzing Iraq, forcing shutdowns in the overstretched power grid as authorities extend public holidays to protect employees from 125-degree temperatures. The insides of UPS trucks often reach that same unbearable heat, as they lack fans and air conditioning. Europe is burning up. France is in the midst of its fourth heat wave of the year as the country faces what the government warned is its worst drought on record. Heavy rain battered South Korea this week, coming down at nearly 6 inches per hour at its peak, flooding Seoul neighborhoods and killing at least nine. China has used Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan as an excuse to suspend climate talks with the United States.
Here’s a new form of climate denial: Rural Oregonians have forced the state to rescind a new wildfire risk map because they don’t want to admit where they live is getting hotter and drier. “This is more about climate change evangelism than it is about actually protecting people from the risks that are out there,” argued one delusional resident.
In bright news, California has approved submetering technology, which will allow owners of electric vehicles to take advantage of special electricity rates for charging.
Climate Action Today:
1 PM: Resources for the Future
Inflation Reduction Act of 2022: Modeling Major Climate and Energy Provisions