President Biden is expected to sign the Inflation Reduction Act into law soon. Environmental advocates hail it as the first major environmental law since 1990, and the country’s most significant investment in the fight against climate change. Nora Apter, climate program director at the Oregon Environmental Council, tells us what it will mean for Oregon.
Note: The following transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We start right now with the Inflation Reduction Act. It would increase corporate taxes and decrease the cost of health care. It would also invest about $370 billion towards clean energy and climate action. That is where we’re going to focus right now. The bill is being debated right now in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats could pass it today; the president is expected to sign it. But what might it actually mean for Oregon and for a habitable planet? Nora Apter joins us to talk about this. She is the climate program director at the Oregon Environmental Council. Welcome back to Think Out Loud.
Nora Apter: Thanks so much for having me, Dave. Really excited to be here.
Miller: I want to start with the big picture first, before we talk about some of the provisions. This bill, it’s a lot smaller than the original Build Back Better proposal. But in terms of climate action in particular, how significant is it?
Apter: This bill is huge. You’re hearing a lot of folks saying it’s historic, it’s unprecedented. Those are completely accurate descriptions of what the House is expected to pass today. Like so many other millennials, the threat of climate change and the disappointment of government inaction, specifically at the federal level, has been a constant my entire life. As someone who’s spent nearly a decade in D.C. working on the Hill advocating at the federal level, including through the Trump administration’s attacks on our cornerstone environmental laws and climate protections, I’ve seen firsthand the setbacks and heartbreaks when it comes to making progress on climate. Activists and leaders in Congress have been fighting for decades to pass strong climate legislation, and that has not happened until hopefully today. On a macro level, what the Inflation Reduction Act means is that Oregonians, people across the country, can finally breathe a sigh of relief that our families and future generations now have a fighting chance at a healthy climate future.
Miller: If we had talked six months ago, even three months ago, and I asked you if you thought a bill like this would pass, what would you have said?
Apter: As an advocate for environmental and economic justice, you can never give up. But again, we’ve seen decades of denial, delay, failed attempts. I think everybody’s hope was wearing thin. The fact that this is set to pass and become law – as you said, nearly $370 billion dollars in climate and clean energy programs – this is huge. It’s an emotional day, a huge victory for everybody who has been part of this fight for the past many decades.
Miller: What would this bill mean in terms of clean energy production?
Apter: As you noted, again we’re talking about $370 billion dollars. A huge part of that is focused on ramping up production of renewable energy like solar and wind and also making it more affordable for individuals and families to be able to reduce their own carbon footprint by purchasing electric vehicles or electric heat pumps. It will make all of that more affordable. On the larger scale, we’re talking about $10 billion in things like tax credits to build clean technology manufacturing facilities – facilities that make electric vehicles and wind turbines and solar panels – just hugely expanded, ramped up production of domestic clean energy. It’s important to note, those investments will not only help drive down climate pollution and ensure cleaner air but also create good paying union jobs for Oregonians. So there’s just so much to be excited about with those investments.
Miller: What would it take for companies in the state of Oregon, or the state government itself, to access money from these programs for, say, solar or wind production?
Apter: That’s a great question. This is a 730-page bill; we’re still digging through some of the details. Each of the provisions does vary slightly in terms of how those investments will be accessed and implemented. For instance, some of the provisions will go to state agencies or be accessible by state agencies. That’s not a guaranteed, however, there’s a lot of opportunity for Oregon companies to apply directly for some of this funding. Again, the work of digging into and making sure that companies, that individuals, that our state leaders are working to maximize these benefits and really harness this opportunity, that begins tomorrow or the day after the President signs the bill. So, there’s a lot to dig through and we don’t have all of the answers right now, I will say.
Miller: How well positioned would you say Oregon though is, either in terms of state government or private entities, in terms of capitalizing on this potential money?
Apter: As folks know, Oregon has stepped up in big ways to fight climate change the past few years. What we’re really excited about with the Inflation Reduction Act is the potential that it has to supercharge the benefits of Oregon’s existing climate programs and policies, like our 100% clean electricity law or existing incentives for things like electric vehicles. However, as I was saying, the extent to which Oregonians see the benefits of these transformative investments will depend in part on whether the state has strong programs and policies in place to implement them. So the next few months and the next legislative session I think will be really key to ensuring that Oregon is best positioned to harness these investments and maximize benefits for everyday Oregonians.
Miller: That’s largely about what might happen in Salem going forward. There’s also, as you noted in passing, but it’s worth spending a second here on this: There are also new incentives for homeowners or consumers who want to decarbonize their lives. What new options will be available?
Apter: Yes. There are a huge amount of provisions that create incentives and opportunities for people who want to, say, purchase that electric vehicle that you’ve been eyeing or invest in home improvements like residential solar or electric heat pumps. Those are things like rebates… There’s one rebate, for instance, that will help low income households cover the entire cost of a heat pump installation up to a cap of $8000. That’s huge. In Oregon we’ve been, in recent weeks, facing just days and days of extreme heat. We know the importance of having temperature controlled environments for protecting our health and our comfort. So having funding to invest in electric pumps, which cut pollution but also make sure that we have healthier living environments, will make it easier for anybody who wants to invest in that to be able to afford to do so. Likewise, I mentioned on the electric vehicle front, there’s rebates up to $7500 off the purchase of a new EV or electric vehicle, or $4000 off a used vehicle. These are really targeted towards low and moderate income households as well, so a big priority to make sure that these investments are helping to pave the way for lower income and moderate households to be able to benefit from this transition to a clean energy economy.
Miller: There has obviously been a lot of excitement about this bill among climate activists. We’re hearing it in your voice now. But this is politics. In order to get this bill, to get the support of the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus, Joe Manchin, things had to be included in order to get him on board. That included a pipeline in West Virginia and the possibility of more drilling on federal lands or offshore. How do you think about the balance between climate action on the one hand and more fossil fuel use on the other?
Apter: Yeah. I wish I could say this bill was perfect, but if Senator Manchin from West Virginia signed off on it, you better believe there’s some sweeteners for the oil and gas industry. Again this legislation represents enormous progress, but it is by no means a silver bullet for combating the climate crisis or addressing environmental justice. As you mentioned, there are concerning provisions that mandate new oil and gas leasing on America’s public lands and waters. That runs directly counter to our climate goals and will disproportionately impact low income communities and people of color. I’ve spent years of my life fighting against oil and gas development, including in the Arctic and the Gulf South, which are both areas that have been explicitly called out for lease sales in this bill. It’s just deeply, deeply disappointing. There’s also a provision that makes the deployment of wind and solar energy on public lands and waters contingent on moving forward with federal oil and gas lease sales. But I will note these requirements are actually lower than historic leasing numbers. It’s very important to underscore, just because these areas are being offered for lease sales does not by any means guarantee that they will be (A) sold and (B) developed.
Miller: Nora Apter, thanks very much for joining us.
Apter: Thanks so much for having me, Dave.
Miller: Nora Apter is a climate program director at the Oregon Environmental Council.
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