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The IRA Might Survive a Republican Trifecta — But Not as a Climate Law

Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

Donald Trump holding the IRA.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

Yes, the law has created a ton of jobs in states and congressional districts controlled by Republicans. Sure, some in the GOP have moderated on climate and stopped denying the science behind the warming of our planet. Absolutely, the IRA is the kind of all-carrot and no-stick approach to energy that Republicans tend to like, and there would be legal and political challenges to accomplishing anything of consequence in today’s polarized and chaotic Congress.

But while some lawmakers may be evolving on climate, the broader GOP under Trump’s control has grown far more willing to spurn its pro-business past and give industries heartburn in pursuit of other ideological or cultural objectives.

“The Republican Party’s traditional views on climate and business are both changing and result in competing pressures,” Alex Flint, a longtime Senate Republican energy staffer, told me. Flint now runs the pro-business climate group Alliance for Market Solutions. “There is less climate denialism. And less support for business. So on the one hand, more Republicans are comfortable supporting climate policies like those in the IRA, but are less responsive to the businesses that want to defend those programs.”

What that means is that, in the event of a big GOP victory, anything impossible to fully repeal may be fiddled with, whether through legislative or administrative means. On top of all the energy and climate regulations that would be targeted in that event, the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels could lose significant federal policy tailwinds.

It wouldn’t take full repeal to kneecap the IRA

On the legislative side, there is already broad GOP support for: repealing the consumer electric vehicle and charging station benefits, nixing the methane fee, killing the national “green bank” program, and eliminating any money labeled “environmental justice.” Broader programs with immense importance to decarbonization such as the “clean electricity” investment and production tax credits could be diminished or gutted at the urging of the party’s rightward flank. (See: this GOP committee chair’s IRA repeal bill, which targeted the investment and production tax credits, specifically.)

Anything that cannot be repealed — as the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 instructs — Republicans will attempt to modify. Mike Faulkender, a former Trump official at the Treasury Department who is now chief economist for the America First Policy Institute, explained to me for an Axios story last October that if Trump wins, “We are going to review every rule, every notice, everything the administration has done in its implementation of that statute.” Demonstrating his seriousness, Faulkender also pointed to the IRA’s credit for carbon removal. “The dollar values on this are extraordinary … I would go through that statute and see how we, through the rulemaking process, can narrow it as much as possible.”

It is possible to take these threats with a grain of salt. Kimberly Clausing, a former Biden official for the Treasury Department, told me that while she can imagine “one or two elements” of the law being revisited if they’re political priorities, it would require “too many lawyer man-hours” to “justify that kind of wholescale implementation pivot.”

Industries would also lobby heavily to avoid their credits going away. Going after the tech-neutral ITC and PTC, for example, could spark an immense backlash among a swath of energy sectors Republicans do support, including nuclear energy. Same for incentives to advanced manufacturing. Not to mention there are substantial logistical realities to repealing the IRA or changing its programs, as with Obamacare in the past. Such an effort would require organizing GOP lawmakers at a time when infighting has undermined even seeming slam dunks like a ban on gas stove bans.

But seasoned political veterans and D.C. industry pros I spoke with for this story noted that Republicans may be more receptive to tweaking programs in a selective fashion, going after industries like solar and offshore wind that some have long-standing grievances with. For example, it may be too difficult to repeal the “tech-neutral” electricity credits in their entirety, but legislators could try to limit their reach for these less-favored sectors — as some have proposed doing for solar projects on farmland — in the name of saving the government money or helping other favored interests.

Energy lobbying veteran Frank Maisano put it to me this way: “Businesses will support many things that they have their tentacles into and Republicans will support many things that are going on in their districts that constituents like. The reality is, if you’re going to try to repeal it, you’re going to have to do it through Congress and a lot of the action in the energy transition is in Republican districts. It becomes a constituent issue.”

Or, in plain English: If it’s a successful project in a GOP constituent district and their specific voters like it, that will be what has the most sway.

That won’t stop Republicans from claiming that the renewable sector as a whole is flagging. In an interview with E&E News’ Kelsey Brugger, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise responded to the question of whether the jobs created by the IRA would put Republicans in a tough spot on repeal by — dubiously — downplaying the figures. “Overall, there haven’t been many projects built,” Scalise said. “We’re scrutinizing all of it.”

There’s a reason for this: It creates an opening to point to real market struggles (though possibly in a selective fashion) as a predicate for squeezing benefits to renewables. It’s easy to imagine a world where the impacts of tariffs on domestic solar or hurdles facing offshore wind are used as rationale for paring back credits and other federal supports. You might not be hearing much about this right now as the GOP is quietly letting Democrats knife themselves, but it’ll be worth watching the Republican National Convention next week to see if anyone spills the tea on plans for the IRA next year.

“Which of [these] forces prevail on any specific IRA program and on the totality of the IRA package is impossible to predict,” said Flint, “because members – Republicans who acknowledge the need to address climate – may be aligned with companies that receive those subsidies. But on the other hand, populists not closely aligned with business interests may be willing to criticize those programs without regard to their climate benefits. So what happens to climate policies and all of the IRA is a test case for the future of the Republican Party.”

Fast isn’t fast enough

Developers are starting to ask questions about the durability of IRA programs, Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told me. Hopper’s optimistic that the marketplace will continue to favor solar. But she is clear-eyed about the risks ahead for certain aspects of the IRA – naming bonuses and the transferability of credits — that may not survive in their current form.

“People ask me all the time about, ‘How do I make educated opinions, not prognostications?’” she said. “There is this kind of built in uncertainty because of the partisanship that clean energy has unfortunately [had] imposed upon us … I am in agreement that the pace of decarb is going to be impacted by these elections and policy decisions. [But] I am not persuaded that we’re going to stop these efforts.”

To Hopper and others, at most risk is any unspent money or unused spending authority left over at agencies at the conclusion of Biden’s first term. Those supports face “probably the highest risk of clawback or not being spent,” she said.

Some agencies are still moving at a brisk pace that has reassured those in industry and advocacy spaces. The Treasury Department has signaled it may complete implementation of several key IRA credits — including the “clean electricity” investment and production tax credits — before Jan. 20, 2025. And the Environmental Protection Agency’s been quite successful at doling out dollars that would otherwise be targeted in a future GOP-controlled Congress, such as those the IRA provided for the Solar For All program and the green bank initiative. These dollars will live on independent of who remains president because once they’re given to states or nonprofits, those parties get to decide how to spend them.

But there are still billions that may wind up in Trump’s control should he win in November. One example is the Department of Energy’s home electrification rebates, which received $8.8 billion. Despite almost all states applying for at least some of the funding, per DOE’s own tracker, only five have been accepted, and only one – New York – had made those rebates available as of this week.

“I’m under the assumption that if it’s not going out in January 2025, then it’s not going out the door,” Harrison Godfrey, who works for energy policy shop Advanced Energy United, told me. “If the dollars get out the door, then the story of ‘25 is that regardless of who’s president, the states are in the driver’s seat.”

There are aspects of the IRA that could survive even a Republican trifecta. The law’s support for low-carbon fuels enjoys apparent bipartisan backing because of the lifeline it can offer corn-based ethanol as the federal renewable fuel standard wanes in relevance. And despite grousing about Biden’s implementation of the hydrogen tax credit, it’s easier to imagine industry lobbying for a rule change under Trump than it is a full-scale repeal of a credit that could be a boon to the oil and gas sector.

Meanwhile, the administration and other industry groups continue to sound an optimistic note.

“The Inflation Reduction Act credits have spurred a clean energy boom in communities across the country and markets have responded overwhelmingly,” Treasury spokesperson Michael Martinez told me in a statement. Jason Ryan, a spokesperson for American Clean Power, said that “with the new tax credits in place,” more than $488 billion investments have been announced, including new or expanded utility-scale manufacturing plants, and that “with over a third of those manufacturing facilities already up and running or under constructions, these numbers translate to real-world positive impacts.”

But even if some of the IRA remains, without regulations to drive demand for decarbonization solutions, its climate benefits would be substantially undermined. One must look only at research from Clausing and others, who found even a partial IRA repeal combined with weakened EPA regulations could significantly harm odds of meeting the current administration’s goal of slashing emissions in half by 2030.

In other words, deep breaths! It’s only four months until the election and six months until the tax conversation begins.

Jael Holzman profile image

Jael Holzman

Jael is a senior reporter at Heatmap. Previously, she was an energy and climate policy reporter for Axios and covered energy transition resources for E&E News. She lives in Washington, D.C.


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