Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


President Joe Biden hands the pen used to sign H.R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 into law, to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The Climate Movement's Fight to Undo the Worst Provisions in the IRA Begins

After President Biden’s signing of a "historic" climate bill, environmental organizers have plenty of work ahead to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Mitch Jones

 by In These Times

Climate activists and grassroots organizers are wrestling with the contradictions embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Biden on August 16. The IRA is undoubtedly the U.S. federal government's largest-ever investment in clean energy and climate action, but it also commits to major investments in sustaining dirty fossil fuels, relies on profit-driven markets to deliver climate benefits, and banks on industry-backed solutions like ​"carbon capture" to magically produce technological feats that so far have failed.

So, is this what winning for the climate movement feels like?

Given the explicit provisions of the IRA that bolster the fossil fuel industry, and the threat of more to come under the Manchin-Schumer ​"side deal," the climate movement has found itself with scarcely little to celebrate, and plenty more to fight.

Broadly speaking, public policy is often reduced to carrots (subsidies and sweeteners) and sticks (regulations and penalties). The IRA is all carrots: extending and expanding tax credits to spur growth in wind and solar production while giving consumers a little cushion to make buying an electric car or upgrading appliances more affordable. If you believe that public policy can create meaningful change via modest incentives in the private marketplace, the IRA has something to offer.

But to get the deal, Democratic leaders had to make some trades, and, as a result, clean energy growth on public lands will depend on an oil and gas leasing bonanza. Not so long ago, President Biden campaigned on a pledge to end fracking on public lands. So what is billed as a landmark climate achievement all but guarantees that fracking will continue to expand.

According to IRA proponents, these kinds of trade-offs are worth it. They insist that the law's presumed climate pollution reductions will be far more impactful than the new drilling and fracking, or the massive new gas export facilities that will continue being incentivized. But that doesn't jibe with reality. Recent analysis from Food & Water Watch, based on evidence from the last decade, shows that promoting cleaner energy while still advancing new fossil fuel projects blunts our progress in ending climate pollution. As the report states, ​"The viability of renewable electricity provides an off-ramp from climate chaos, but if fossil fuel development continues unchecked, we will be locked in to decades of continued carbon emissions and climate crisis."

Nevertheless, we are told by proponents that the law will reduce climate emissions by about 40% over the next ten years. This claim is misleading, as the law actually requires no emissions cuts at all. What these optimistic models suggest is that, due to the law, greenhouse gas emissions could drop 42% compared to the high point of 2005. Yet we're about halfway to that goal already, and the same models predict 27% further reductions will happen without any new laws at all.

So how is this progress accounted for? Lots of new wind and solar energy, of course, as well as a substantial increase in electric car purchases. One of the most popular models assumes that every car sold in the United States will be an electric model by 2030. While that is possible, it would seem unlikely without some type of mandate.

The law and these pollution projections also hinge on a massive buildout of what's known as ​"carbon capture"—the much-hyped but entirely unproven and unrealized technology that would capture emissions and bury them underground. Boosters of carbon capture assume (or at least want us to assume) that all the scheme needs to succeed is billions of dollars more in government subsidies, which the Inflation Reduction Act delivers. This is an odd argument, as the federal government has been massively subsidizing fledgling carbon capture projects for more than a decade already. The result so far has been zero success in cost-effectively capturing and disposing of climate emissions in any significant quantity.

What sounds good in theory—capturing pollution—is very different in practice. To date, the carbon capture industry exists almost exclusively to service the extraction and burning of more fossil fuels. In a process known as enhanced oil recovery, some captured gasses are being pumped into existing oil and gas wells in order to drive more product out of the ground—akin to the process behind fracking. As a result, carbon capture has contributed to a vicious cycle of fossil fuel dependence.

Which brings us to the matter of the so-called ​"side deal" negotiated by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.). Under the guise of ​"permitting reform," this deal intends to fast-track fossil fuel expansion, curtail public input and weaken regulatory oversight. The details are yet to be determined, but a draft outline of the bill (which could be attached to a must-pass annual spending measure in September) calls for the designation of at least five new massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects as being of ​"strategic national importance."

So even before the ink has dried on the Inflation Reduction Act, environmental and climate justice advocates are regrouping for the next battle. Given the explicit provisions of the IRA that bolster the fossil fuel industry, and the threat of more to come under the Manchin-Schumer ​"side deal," the climate movement has found itself with scarcely little to celebrate, and plenty more to fight.

© 2021 In These Times
Mitch Jones

Mitch Jones

Mitch Jones is the Managing Director of Policy at Food & Water Watch.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Incredible': Omar and Khanna Staffers Join Levin's Office in Unionizing

"It is long past time the United States Congress became a unionized workplace, and that includes my own staff," said Rep. Ilhan Omar. "I am proud of all the people on my team who have played a leading role in the staff unionization effort. Solidarity forever."

Jessica Corbett ·

Destructive Hurricanes Fuel Calls for Biden to Declare Climate Emergency

"Mother Nature is not waiting for the president or Congress to declare a climate emergency. She's showing us in real-time here in the United States—with wildfires, floods, heatwaves, hurricanes, and drought."

Jessica Corbett ·

Spain Approves 'Solidarity' Tax to Make Nation's Top 0.1% Pay a Fairer Share

The country's finance minister said that looming changes are bound to make the tax code "more progressive, efficient, fair, and also enough to guarantee social justice and economic efficiency."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Time to Take to the Streets': Working Class Hold 'Enough Is Enough' Rallies Across UK

"Does a CEO need an extra zero at the end of their salary—or should nurses, posties, and teachers be able to heat their homes?" said one supporter ahead of the #EnoughIsEnough National Day of Action.

Julia Conley ·

Ukraine Responds to Putin Annexations With Fast-Track NATO Application

Lamenting the lack of any progress toward a diplomatic settlement, one anti-war campaigner asked: "Will the world stand idly by as we careen towards nuclear apocalypse?"

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo