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What Could Go Right? Clean energy abundance

What the US stands to gain from the Inflation Reduction Act—the nation's largest-ever climate investment

Brian Leli

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The US passes major climate legislation

Last week, the United States passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—an expansive climate, tax, and health care bill that contains the largest federal climate investment in US history. On Tuesday, President Biden signed the bill into law. 

Despite its name, the IRA is first and foremost a climate bill (more on that below). Second to that, it is a health care bill. It invests $64 billion to extend subsidies for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, allows Medicare to negotiate the prices of up to 10 drugs starting in 2026, and caps out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 a year starting in 2025. According to The New York Times, it is “the most substantial change to health policy since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010.”

Here’s what’s in the bill on climate:

Investments
Of the IRA’s more than $430 billion in total spending—paid for largely through a 15 percent minimum tax on large corporations, prescription drug price reforms, and increased IRS enforcement—$369 billion will go to climate and clean energy investments. These include subsidies and tax credits to drive both consumers and US manufacturers toward electric vehicles and cleaner energies and help lower energy costs.

Many of the bill’s manufacturing tax credits are aimed at spurring the domestic production of renewable technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. Consumers, meanwhile, can get rebates for installing solar, buying electric vehicles, and making a host of energy-efficient upgrades to their homes.

On top of these and a slew of other clean energy incentives for companies and communities, the bill also includes $60 billion to help clean up pollution and reduce environmental injustice in disadvantaged communities.

There were some concessions made to appease Senator Joe Manchin and secure his vote. These include subsidies and credits for coal, oil, and gas. Manchin also insisted on a provision requiring the government to offer new oil and gas leases on federal lands and in the Gulf of Mexico. But as Grist points out, “it’s far from certain that oil and gas companies will want to build new drilling operations on that territory. The industry has shifted resources away from federal lands and the Gulf of Mexico in recent years, and there’s currently less capital available than ever for new production in these areas.” And if the IRA succeeds in reducing demand for fossil fuels by shifting the US to clean energy technologies, that’s going to continue to make fossil fuel developments less profitable.

For more on the bill’s spending and what’s in it for you, we recommend these breakdowns:

Emissions cuts
Even with the fossil fuel concessions, multiple analyses show that the IRA’s investments would move the US closer to reaching its target of reducing emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

One report, from independent research firm Rhodium Group, estimates that the IRA’s climate investments could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 to 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, compared to 24 to 35 percent without them. Analyses by two other groups—REPEAT Project, a Princeton-run energy and climate policy evaluator, and Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and environmental policy group—were broadly similar in their estimates, putting emissions reductions with the IRA at around 40 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

Clean energy abundance
At its core, the IRA comprises what The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson has called an “abundance agenda.” It is policy built largely on investments to make clean energy plentiful and affordable.

“Except for a tax on methane emissions,” writes economist Noah Smith, “the IRA employs subsidies rather than taxes. Instead of charging companies for emitting greenhouse gases, subsidies pay companies to switch to specific renewable technologies like solar power and electric vehicles.”

Smith adds that the subsidies in the IRA would not only reduce emissions in the US by making “‘cheap energy’ and ‘green energy’ synonymous,” but also incentivize other countries to decarbonize. If the IRA were to employ carbon taxes rather than subsidies, he says, this may in fact lead to decreased US demand for oil and coal, but that decrease on its own, absent the further development of inexpensive clean energy alternatives, would likely spur a drop in oil and coal prices on the international market and push other countries to buy up cheap fossil fuels.

“The incentives for the deployment of solar power, electric vehicles, hydrogen, heat pumps, electric home appliances, and other renewable technologies on a mass scale in the world’s largest (or second-largest) economy will continue driving the prices of these technologies down,” Smith writes, “and give all the countries of the world an incentive to adopt all of these things at an accelerated pace—which will in turn drive down prices even more. It’s a virtuous cycle—a key part of the Green Vortex that’s our best hope for beating climate change.”

The other big US climate bill

President Biden also signed into law the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act last week. The bipartisan bill will provide $52 billion in subsidies to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research. “What has attracted far less attention,” writes Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic, “is that the law also invests tens of billions of dollars in technologies and new research that matter in the fight against climate change.”

While agencies will still need to secure the right from Congress to direct the money toward specific uses, Meyer says the CHIPS Act could direct around $67 billion toward “accelerating the growth of zero-carbon industries and conducting climate-relevant research.”

Viewed together with the IRA and last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, Meyer writes, “these three laws are set to more than triple the federal government’s average annual spending on climate and clean energy this decade, compared with the 2010s.”

“Regardless of exactly how much new climate spending CHIPS ends up generating,” Meyer says, “the broader trend is clear. When you add CHIPS, the IRA, and the infrastructure law together, Washington appears to be unifying behind a new industrial policy, focused not only on semiconductors and defense technology but clean energy.”

Before we go

This bioengineered cornea implant has been used to restore sight to blind people. The low-cost implant, made from pig skin protein, could help bring sight to other visually impaired people in countries where human cornea transplants are in short supply. 

A new Lyme disease vaccine is about to enter late-stage trials. If it proves successful, it would be the first federally approved human Lyme vaccine in the US in 20 years.

We heard that you can summon Tasmanian tigers by saying “thylacine” five times in front of a mirror. But these scientists are taking a different approach to resurrecting the extinct species and restoring its former ecosystems.

Below in the links section, the first wild jaguar cubs in decades in Argentina, free period products in Scotland, over-the-counter hearing aids in the US, and more.


Secretly Sexy

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Australia’s newest supercomputer, Setonix, produced this highly detailed image of a supernova remnant—the remains of an explosion from a dying star. According to Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, this remnant is believed to be about 100 light-years wide and may have exploded in the Neolithic era. | Credit: CSIRO

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Until Next Time

Oops, we forgot to mention the Inflation Reduction Act’s provision to reinstate the 1990s! 😉👇

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Brian Leli is The Progress Network’s editorial assistant. Originally from the American Midwest, he is currently living in northern Thailand.