When details were released last week on the climate action compromise between Democratic US Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and President Joe Biden, I couldn’t help thinking back to 2007, when Louisiana’s Legislature approved the state’s $50 billion, 50-year Coastal Master Plan.
Privately, many coastal scientists said we needed a far more ambitious plan and would need $200 billion to pay for it. And they were not happy with certain compromises. But publicly, they cheered the event because the state was achieving two critical goals.
Our political establishment was finally admitting we faced an existential threat to our coastal region.
And, after decades of demonstration projects, we had finally taken the first step to a holistic, ecosystem-wide plan they agreed was the only route to even partial survival.
That’s how I see in the Manchin-Biden agreement.
Does it include the type of emissions regulations needed to prevent the growth of already-serious warming impacts over the next 30 years, including sea level rise that will surely swallow more of our coast? Nope.
But that road had been made impossible by the US Supreme Court’s ruling in EPA vs. West Virginia and the unbending opposition to regulations by the GOP and coal-baron Manchin.
Indeed, the bill’s title, “The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act,” acknowledges that sad fact.
So Biden, Manchin and other Senate Democrats did something Americans have been demanding for the last decade: They fashioned a compromise.
Gone are the regulations industry hates but every climatologist knows are necessary to survive climate change: cutting our emissions 50% in the next 30 years. Instead, the $369 billion proposal is more correctly known as the “climate and tax bill.” It includes important funding for infrastructure, investment and research to speed the move from fossil fuels to renewables. And it will pay for much of that with taxes, some of which will be on oil and gas.
Key features include:
• Billions in 10-year tax credits to companies building new sources of emissions-free electricity, advanced nuclear reactors and carbon capture.
• Means-tested tax credits up to $7,500 for new electric vehicles, $4,000 for used electric vehicles, and $1 billion funding for zero-emissions school buses, public transit buses, commercial vehicles and heavy-duty trucks.
• Increased grants for adding EV recharging stations — to $100,000 from $30,000.
• $9 billion in rebates for retrofitting homes with energy efficient appliances and tax credits for heat pumps, rooftop solar, water heaters, electric HVAC or electric heating and ventilation.
• $60 billion for US manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and critical minerals processing, and $10 billion in investment tax credits to build manufacturing facilities that make electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies.
• $20 billion for programs to cut emissions from cows and other livestock, and from agricultural soil practices and rice production; programs for forest conservation; increased urban tree planting; development of fire-resilient forests and the conservation and restoration of coastal habitats.
• $60 billion for grants to low-income communities and communities of color suffering public health effects of climate change.
• Reinstatement and an increase in a long-lapsed tax on crude and imported petroleum products, to 16.4 cents per barrel.
• A new fee on excess methane, a greenhouse gas, leaking from oil and gas wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.
And oil and gas got some more help.
Not in this bill, but as part of the compromise, Democrats agreed to support a Manchin bill to expedite all energy projects by setting two-year limits, or maximum timelines, for environmental reviews, centralizing decision-making with one lead agency and clearing the way for the approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, opposed by many environmental groups.
The bill’s authors claim it could reduce emissions by 40% over 30 years. That’s obviously short of 50% goal set years ago and, in the face of greatly accelerating impacts, seems too low today. But the first step in a long journey is always the most important, and often the hardest.
And just as the sinking coast drew ever more support for our coastal master plan, I believe rising climate impacts and falling costs of clean power will result in public demands to increase the pace of that journey.
This isn’t the solution, but at least it’s a start.
Bob Marshall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisiana environmental journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Twitter @BMarshallEnviro