by Karsten Würth

The IRA Is Big, But Not Big Enough. Let’s Fix That!

September 14, 2022 |

Most of us have probably seen illustrations by MC Escher, the ones that seem to turn inside out and back again right before your eyes. We become mesmerized and puzzled by the effect.

I was reminded of these illustrations over the past few weeks as I read the many, many articles that dissected the Inflation Reduction Act. From one perspective, I could see something beautiful and inspiring in this $369 billion investment that many analysts are confident will reduce carbon emissions to 40% of 2005 levels by 2030. It’s not the 50% reduction that President Biden wanted, but it’s still an essential milestone if we stand any chance of preventing the worst impacts of climate change. I whole-heartedly supported the funding provisions for low- and middle-income families to electrify their homes and have access to $9 billion for energy rebates. And I said yes to the $60 billion promised to juice the renewable energy manufacturing sector and ramp up production of solar panels, batteries, and other technologies still in development.

But when I shifted my perspective and read of the compromises made to ensure Joe Manchin’s vote, I saw a darker picture—including 60 million acres of public land per year offered up on the chopping block for oil leases before wind leases can be allowed. Plus, the legislation now includes approval for opening areas to drilling that have been off limits, like parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet, Alaska.

It makes no sense to expand massive infrastructure that will increase fossil fuel combustion while we are frantically working to stop carbon emissions.

And that’s not to mention the dirty side deal, a separate piece of legislation now under development, that a leaked draft suggests will make it easy to circumvent state and local regulations when siting oil and gas pipelines—speeding their construction, but putting environment and human health at risk.

It makes no sense to expand massive infrastructure that will increase fossil fuel combustion while we are frantically working to stop carbon emissions.

Do you wonder why we did not see the full PR mobilization of Big Oil against this bill? It’s because they don’t feel it will hurt them too much—especially since they now have a growing and lucrative export market in Europe from the curtailing of Russian oil. “We’re pleased,” ExxonMobil’s CEO, Darren Woods, said on an earnings call, speaking of the Inflation Reduction Act, as reported in The Guardian.

My frustration is great over how this bill will help Big Oil and thereby slow progress at reining in climate change. But what I find most disheartening is that by keeping the oil industry running full tilt, our nation once again tells the low-income, largely BIPOC communities near refineries, inner city freeways, and factories that they will just have to wait one more generation for the clean air that all Americans deserve. Only one more generation of urban children will suffer asthma at such high rates. Only one more generation of Detroiters will have to breathe toxins from the Marathon refinery in their neighborhood. Only one more generation of indigenous tribal citizens will have to endure the risk of pipeline spills and the humiliation of government-sanctioned trespass on their lands.

The summer of 2020 was etched in history with the Black Lives Matter movement demanding rightfully that waiting for “just one more generation” was unacceptable. Yet we see that very same sentiment codified again in this law.

America has shown time and again that we can do big and great things. This law is big, but it is not big enough. Not big enough to hit our long-term climate goals and, very importantly, not big enough to move us more quickly to be a more just and equitable nation.

There’s much talk these days about voter malaise, especially among young people who feel things like the flawed compromises of this law prove that it’s pointless to vote. We see that proof positive in the fact that younger adults have the lowest rate of voter registration of any age group.

But the takeaway here should be the opposite: voting is more essential than ever, especially for our younger generation. Flawed though it is, this law is by far the largest investment in climate infrastructure the nation has ever made. And though the IRA might get us only halfway up the mountain to an equitable net zero carbon economy, it’s still halfway up, and the progress positions us for the rest of the journey.

That progress only happened because people voted out climate deniers in recent elections. By electing even more climate champions, we can eliminate the power that a single senator has to weaken climate policy at the national level, and we can move climate initiatives forward at all levels of government.

With a historic midterm election racing toward