Friday, August 19, 2022

The Inflation Reduction Act is a mixed blessing for the environment

The USA's long-awaited Inflation Reduction Act finally got passed, after worries that it would flounder on the floor of the finely-balanced Senate, like so many bills before it. 

Most progressives and environmentalists seem to like the mis-named bill (it's more about dealing with climate change and health care than inflation per se), even if it doesn't go far enough for many. It is hoped that the bill will kick-start America's clean energy and renewables sector, and that it will contribute significantly to the US's climate change goals. It has been called the "biggest climate investment in US history", and a "game changer". And it is true that there are many good things within the large and complex legislation, including tax breaks and subsidies for renewable energy production of all types.

But what gets lost, or at least glossed over, is the fact that there are provisions in the bill, as it was finally passed, that actively work against climate change mitigation, and for the iniquitous oil and gas industry. Specifically, it guarantees new offshore drilling opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, something the Biden administration had strenuously tried to avoid, both from a climate change pointed view and from a general environmental point of view, as well as to ease some current federal rules that, it is argued, limit fossil fuel production. Also included are substantial tax credits for carbon capture and direct air capture technologies that some see as giving the fossil fuel industry license to continue and even expand their operations. These pro-oil provisions could "prolong the usage of fossil fuels", and particularly boost the US's fossil fuel export market.

And the reason for this apparently irreconcilable position? Well, a still-strong oil and gas lobby for sure, but mainly two words: Joe Manchin. The supposedly Democratic Senator for West Virginia (whom I have written about before, at length) insisted on this sop to the fossil fuel industry that he loves so much, and which pays him so well. Without it, he would not have voted for the bill, and it would indeed have failed. One man held the entire United States for ransom.

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