The climate law — and its billions — changed everything

The climate world suddenly rolls in the dough.

After decades of failed attempts to enact sweeping climate change legislation, Democrats introduced a bill this summer that funnels nearly $370 billion into climate and renewable energy programs. The huge new cash flow and the fine print of the law behind it is changing the way climate policy works.

“Holy shit, that’s a ton of money — all to build a clean energy economy. And we’ve never done that,” said Sam Ricketts, co-founder of Evergreen Action and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The new climate law is already changing everything from how consumers buy cars and how green groups organize, to the policy experts who are suddenly in high demand on Capitol Hill and K Street. And nearly two months after President Joe Biden signed the climate bill into law, policy buffs, businesses, lawmakers, environmentalists, administration officials and others are still trying to figure it out. how this is all going to work.

“The country hasn’t embarked on this level of industrial transformation since the New Deal,” Ricketts said. “It will be something that we will all solve together. …I mean, the CEO of the energy storage company, the lineman at [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] in Missouri, the environmental justice advocate in Houston and [a policy advocate] in Washington, D.C. »

By comparison, the gigantic stimulus package passed in 2009 spent about $90 billion on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, an amount the Obama administration announced at the time as “the largest single clean energy investment in history”.

Gina McCarthy, just before stepping down as Biden’s climate adviser, joked last month that she had “become” able to talk about climate finance in billions, rather than millions. “It’s been a tough journey for me,” she said. When she led the EPA under the Obama administration, she added, the agency’s total annual budget was just over $8 billion.

And the $370 billion figure included in the legislation Democrats have dubbed the Cut Inflation Act is just part of the money invested in boosting renewable energy and fighting climate change.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Paul Bledsoe, climate policy expert and strategic adviser for the Progressive Policy Institute.

Bledsoe estimates Combined government spending on climate and clean energy from the Cut Inflation Act — along with recently passed laws to fund technology manufacturing and infrastructure — will be around $514 billion.

This will encourage “trillions of dollars of investment over the next few decades, probably tens of trillions of dollars of private sector investment,” he said.

Wanted: Public Expenditure Experts

Overseeing the deployment of all those game-changing billions: longtime Democratic insider and climate policy expert John Podesta, whom Biden has hired to lead a new White House office focused on implementing the law.

He’s the administration’s go-to man to make sure all that money is flowing where it’s supposed to go and that the panoply of federal agencies with obligations under the law are working together.

“As we build a clean energy economy, we know we have to get it right,” Podesta told reporters earlier this week. “That means we must listen, engage and act quickly to translate policy into action.”

Podesta was announcing an effort to encourage the public to weigh in on the climate and renewable energy tax incentives included in the Climate Law.

The bulk of climate and energy funding from the new Climate Act — $270 billion out of a total of nearly $370 billion — will be provided through tax incentives, making the Treasury Department and the IRS of key players in achieving the Biden administration’s climate goals (green wireOctober 5).

The Treasury, EPA, and Department of Energy are among those staffed to implement the new climate law (green wireSeptember 29).

Agencies aren’t the only places hiring and re-staffing. Government spending experts, tax incentive specialists, and Democratic Capitol Hill staffers who have worked on climate legislation are likely to be especially in demand by advocacy groups, lobbying firms, and corporations (Daily O&MSeptember 20).

“We’re going to need more of everyone in the clean energy field,” said Harvard Kennedy School professor Joe Aldy, who served as a White House energy and environment aide. of Obama. This includes more lawyers, engineers and domestic workers who can build and install clean energy technologies, he added. “We are transforming the economy; that’s the goal here.

Environmental organizations, meanwhile, are also changing direction. Many hailed the Climate Act as a major victory, although some are wary of the looming prospect of legislation to speed up infrastructure clearance as well as provisions in the law that require leasing of oil and gas (green wireOctober 6).

Now the groups that lobbied for the climate law are turning their attention to implementation. This will include engaging with agencies when designing new programs, helping partners such as states and businesses take advantage of new opportunities, and communicating successes, Ricketts said.

Supporters also plan to pressure the administration to keep its promises to ensure federal investments reach disadvantaged populations.

“This is a significant amount of money, and the important thing now is to make sure it gets to the communities that deserve this funding,” said Rachel Cleetus, director of policy for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The elephant in the room

As the climate world reconfigures around all this new spending, uncertainty hangs over how the GOP may soon attempt to reverse the Democrats’ efforts.

If Republicans win a majority of either house of Congress in next month’s midterm elections, they will have much more power to investigate Democrats’ climate spending, just as they have focused on the Obama administration’s energy spending when the GOP reversed control of the House in 2010. Republicans would also have more power to block agency and program spending.

“Perhaps there will be nefarious attempts, and we saw under the previous administration, that one of the tactics used was to decimate agencies…both budgets and personnel, which makes more difficult for them to implement their mission,” said Cleetus.

Congressional Republicans — who voted unanimously against the Cut Inflation Act — are already planning to step up oversight of the Biden administration ahead of the hammer blows next year (E&E News PMOctober 6).

Bob Perciasepe, who served as deputy administrator of the EPA during the Obama administration, said increased scrutiny on Capitol Hill “will definitely be a challenge” for agencies working on new climate and energy programs.

Implementing the law “can be done”, he said, but it will involve a “diversion of resources” to answer the “billions of questions that come in daily”.

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