Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Politics

So Is the IRA in Danger, or What?

President Biden’s climate law gets a political stress test.

President Biden and Kevin McCarthy.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

For the first time since it passed last summer, the Inflation Reduction Act — President Biden’s flagship climate law — is facing a threat of repeal.

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has proposed essentially rolling back the law in their opening bid on negotiations with the White House to extend the government's borrowing limit and prevent a calamitous default. The GOP's proposal, called the Limit, Grow, and Save Act, would raise the debt ceiling for a year while slashing trillions in federal spending over the next decade.

While the Republican bill proposes deep cuts across the board, it takes a cleaver to Biden’s climate policy. Folding in the Lower Energy Costs Act, the first bill that the new GOP majority put on the floor, the act would repeal more than two dozen of the IRA’s clean-energy tax credits, including subsidies for renewables and electric vehicles. It would also defund programs meant to open new factories in the United States and gut climate-friendly programs popular with Republicans, such as generous subsidies for nuclear energy and hydrogen production.

Now, let’s get this out of the way: Neither the bill nor the negotiations around it are likely to repeal the IRA. Yet for the next few days or weeks, the IRA will likely appear to be in danger as nobody will quite say it’s safe out loud.

The Republican bill’s chief importance is as a piece of political posturing: Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy hopes to demonstrate that he has 218 votes to raise the debt ceiling and pass a budget, any budget, through his disorganized and dramatic caucus. Then he can open more serious negotiations with President Biden and Senate leaders about the debt ceiling and the year’s budget.

But to get there, he’ll have to keep the GOP’s right flank on his side first. McCarthy and House Republican leadership didn’t even want to include the IRA repeal in the Limit, Save, and Grow Act, but included it because the far-right House Freedom Caucus demanded it. That means House leadership must look completely serious about its intent to repeal.

At the same time, climate advocates must now mobilize around the IRA to demonstrate its importance to the public and prevent the Biden administration from sacrificing it in negotiations.

More broadly, though, this moment is a test for a few competing hypotheses about whether the IRA can survive — and about the future of climate policy in America.

To the set of political scientists, climate activists, and energy experts who championed the law, repealing the IRA would be so damaging to Republicans as to be unthinkable. That’s because Republicans’ constituents are, for now, reaping much of the IRA’s economic rewards. Up to two-thirds of green-energy investment nationwide is happening in GOP congressional districts, according to Politico. The all-important swing state of Georgia leads the country in clean-energy and electric-vehicle investments, forming the heartland of a new, vaguely banana-shaped “Battery Belt” that stretches across the largely Republican Southeast. Even beyond that region, Speaker McCarthy’s California district is one of the top two districts nationwide for utility-scale solar, wind, and battery plants.

This wasn’t an accident. The IRA is a product of the Democratic Party, so it was, yes, meant to do all those old-school Democrat things — encourage unionization, boost wages, and help revitalize the old industrial Midwest. But it was written by Democrats who see the party’s future in the Sunbelt suburbs and who prioritize decarbonization above other political goals. They knew — they couldn’t help but know — that much of the law’s investment would flow to the manufacturing centers of the American South and Southwest, where “Right to Work” laws restrict worker power and corporate-friendly policies reign.

On the other side, a set of critics allege that Republicans’ attack on the IRA doesn’t need to make political sense. Kate Aronoff, a New Republic staff writer who has been guardedly skeptical of the law, argued last week that House Republicans don’t care about the political fallout of killing the IRA because they’re protected from virtually any type of political fallout at all, thanks to gerrymandering, their deep-pocketed corporate donors, and a sharply conservative Supreme Court. In that view, the attempts to secure the IRA by appealing to Republicans’ constituents is futile: The party will simply do what it wants.

At stake here is a deep but important disagreement about the IRA. The flagship law aims to cleave fossil-fuel interests from the rest of the corporate bolus: to make it so attractive for banks, carmakers, electric utilities, steelmakers, manufacturers, and everyone else to decarbonize that they had no choice but to do so.Can that happen? Will that happen? This is the question on which the IRA’s advocates and its climate-friendly critics disagree. It is also is the question on which the fate of the IRA — and American climate policy — turns.

In her piece, Aronoff notes that fossil-fuel companies donated 13 times more to politicians in 2018 than renewable companies did. I found that to be oddly encouraging: If money alone is the issue, then the fossil-fuel industry’s alleged grip on the GOP could loosen over time. (The gap is already narrowing: Oil and gas-affiliated groups gave about six times more than renewables groups did in the most recent election cycle.)

The far more dangerous possibility for the IRA is that Republicans cannot be won over with money or argument. The party may just vibe with fossil fuels. Lawmakers and officials might feel an ideological affinity for oil and gas that goes deeper than those fuels’ economic or security benefits. During President Donald Trump’s term, he sometimes seemed to speak about fossil fuels not as a necessary evil, but as a positive good. This sometimes verged on trolling, but that was the point too: for Trump, at least, that it triggered liberals only underscored its correctitude. If that view were to break out into the party at large, it would spell an end to any kind of bipartisan shift on climate policy.

Which is all to say: Republicans probably won’t repeal the IRA this week.



Robinson Meyer profile image

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.

Sparks

The Electrolyzer Tech Business Is Booming

A couple major manufacturers just scored big sources of new capital.

Hysata.
Heatmap Illustration/Screenshot/YouTube

While the latest hydrogen hype cycle may be waning, investment in the fundamental technologies needed to power the green hydrogen economy is holding strong. This past week, two major players in the space secured significant funding: $100 million in credit financing for Massachusetts-based Electric Hydrogen and $111 million for the Australian startup Hysata’s Series B round. Both companies manufacture electrolyzers, the clean energy-powered devices that produce green hydrogen by splitting water molecules apart.

“There is greater clarity in the marketplace now generally about what's required, what it takes to build projects, what it takes to actually get product out there,” Patrick Molloy, a principal at the energy think tank RMI, told me. These investments show that the hydrogen industry is moving beyond the hubris and getting practical about scaling up, he said. “It bodes well for projects coming through the pipeline. It bodes well for the role and the value of this technology stream as we move towards deployment.”

Keep reading...Show less
Green
Electric Vehicles

Car Companies Are Energy Companies Now

The major U.S. automakers are catching up on Tesla’s power game.

A Silverado EV and power lines.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It was my first truck-powered cocktail party.

General Motors had gathered journalists at a Beverly Hills mansion last week for a vehicle-to-home show and tell. GM’s engineers outfitted the garage with all the components needed for an electric vehicle’s battery to back up the house’s power supply. Then they tripped the circuit breaker to cut off the home from grid power and let the plugged-in Chevy Silverado electric pickup run the home’s lights and other electrical systems for the remainder of the gathering.

Keep reading...Show less
Blue
Climate

AM Briefing: Biden’s Coal Lease Crackdown

On the future of coal mining, critical minerals, and Microsoft’s emissions

What To Know About Biden’s Coal Lease Crackdown
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Rain and cool temperatures are stalling wildfires in an oil-producing region of Canada • A record-setting May heat wave in Florida will linger through the weekend • It is 77 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Rome today, where the Vatican climate conference will come to a close.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Severe storms in Houston kill 4

At least four people were killed in Houston last night when severe storms tore through Texas. Wind speeds reached 100 mph, shattering skyscraper windows, destroying trees, and littering downtown Houston with debris. “Downtown is a mess. It’s dangerous,” said Houston Mayor John Whitmire. Outside Houston, winds toppled powerline towers. At one point 1 million customers were without power across the state, and many schools are closed today. The storm front moved into Louisiana this morning, prompting flash flood warnings in New Orleans.

Keep reading...Show less
Yellow