Now is the time for Congress to act on the climate


Democrats – who control the House, Senate, and White House – have the ability to make sweeping changes to our country to improve the lives of citizens in a myriad of ways we sorely need, now and for generations. future. Fortunately, they are currently working on how to do this through the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation process. On their to-do list is tackling the climate crisis first and foremost.

During a visit to New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida last week, President Biden said, “People, the evidence is clear: climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy and the threat is there … We can prevent it from getting worse.”

Democrats are well aware that their window to get things done is not guaranteed after the midterm elections. Whatever they do, they have to do it now. To complicate matters, in order to avoid obstruction from Senate Republicans, they must integrate all their big plans into the budget reconciliation process which only needs a simple majority to pass. As if that weren’t complicated enough, Democrats also need to worry about defectors in their ranks.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with all the moving parts of the budget reconciliation process and what it means for the climate, don’t worry. There are a number of exciting developments, but the ones you really need to keep an eye out for are the Clean Energy Tax Incentives and the Clean Electricity Performance Program.

Advance budget reconciliation

The $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill contains a lot. Expanded healthcare benefits, paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing, infrastructure and more. But given strong opposition to the price tag from more centrist Democrats like Sen. Joe manchinJoe ManchinWarner Says $ 500 Billion Package “Is Not Enough” for Manchin Housing Assistance Responds to Ocasio-Cortez’s Tweet: “Keep Dividing, Dividing, Dividing” (DW.Va.), this may not be a done deal. Some of these initiatives may need to be deleted.

Some hope that even Democrats like Manchin will rally to their party.

Political strategist Brandon Hurlbut pointed out in a recent episode of the Political Climate podcast: “Democrats give themselves a better chance of winning halfway through if they can run on these two.” [legislative] packages. Joe Biden can claim “I made government work again… and enact massive policies that will help the American people. “

Others in Washington believe that it will take “painful sacrifices” to negotiate down the scope and price of the bill.

I hope the full $ 3.5 trillion package will be passed. But if it comes down, how should they decide what to keep and what to cut?

The climate must be the top priority

Of course, all of the issues addressed by the reconciliation package are in desperate need of attention.

But with climate change, we have to remember that the window for action to preserve a liveable climate is very short and we are literally running out of time. The UN climate report released earlier this month declared climate change a “code red for humanity” and called for quadrupling the world’s solar and wind capacity and tripling investment in renewable energies by 2030.

If the big chunks go through Congress (the clean energy tax credits and the Clean Electricity Performance Program), it will really help shake things up.

Tax credits

A recent DOE report called for increasing solar power from 4% of the country’s electricity today to 45% by 2050 and establishing a plan to achieve it.

A major driver of the solar industry to date has been the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which has been a moving target for decades, extended or threatened by Congress after Congress. . To begin with, the new budget proposal would add a 10-year extension to ITC. The tax credit would also now have the option of being “refundable”, allowing for direct payment instead of a reduction in taxes owed – a huge opportunity for industry expansion. Unfortunately, this critical improvement would only be available commercially, not for residential customers. There is a coalition of advocates, including myself, who are working to change this oversight before the bill is finalized.

Jesse jenkins, an assistant professor at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, estimates that streamlining the process in this way will create an additional 15-25% value for tax credits.

Owners of solar systems will be incentivized to build with local materials, pay prevailing wages to installers, hire skilled apprentices and there will be bonuses for solar systems deployed in low-income and environmental justice communities.

There is also a plethora of tax credits available for storage, electric vehicles, energy efficiency measures, sustainable aviation fuels, and even e-bikes. There is also a new refundable environmental justice tax credit for universities working on programs to better understand environmental justice issues.

Clean electricity performance program

The structure of the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) appears simple as written. Utilities across the country will be incentivized to meet 80% of the country’s electricity needs with clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2035. Each utility will receive payments if it meets its annual targets and will have to pay a fine if he misses them. Independent analysis found that CEPP “would increase the US workforce by 7.7 million new jobs and add nearly $ 1 trillion to the economy by 2031.” It would certainly be appreciated by all Americans right now, don’t you think?

Managing the climate crisis has many facets. Getting the United States to 100% clean energy by 2035 – and the ripple effects that will impact supply chains and electricity markets around the world – would be a game-changer. If CEPP and clean energy incentives do not appear in the final version of the budget reconciliation bill, we will probably say goodbye to our best chance of dealing with the climate crisis.

Andreas Karelas is the author of the book “Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform Economy, and Close America’s Political DividePublished by Beacon Press. He is also founder and CEO of RE-volv, a climate justice nonprofit that helps other nonprofits across the country go solar. Follow him on Twitter: @AndreasKarelas


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