In a May 30 essay for the New York Times titled “The New Climate Law Is Working. Clean Energy Investments Are Soaring,” one of the architects of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Brian Deese, wrote, “Nine months since that law was passed in Congress, the private sector has mobilized well beyond our initial expectations to generate clean energy, build battery factories and develop other technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
There’s just one problem. Those technologies aren’t going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to reduce emissions fast enough to prevent climate catastrophe is to phase out the burning of oil, gas, and coal by law, directly and deliberately. If, against all odds, the United States does that, we certainly will need wind- and solar-power installations, batteries, and new technologies to compensate for the decline of energy from fossil fuels. There is no reason, however, to expect that the process would work in reverse; a “clean-energy” mobilization alone won’t cause a steep reduction in use of fossil fuels.
I think top leaders in Washington are using green-energy pipe dreams to distract us from the reality that they have given up altogether on reducing US fossil fuel use. They’ve caved. This month’s bipartisan deal on the debt limit included a provision that would ease the permitting of energy infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines like the ecologically destructive Mountain Valley fossil-gas pipeline so dear to the heart of West Virginia’s Democratic senator Joe Manchin. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has issued new rules allowing old coal and fossil gas power plants to continue operating if they capture their carbon dioxide emissions and inject them into old oil wells. And under the IRA, those plants that capture emissions will receive federal climate subsidies, even if they use the carbon dioxide that’s pumped into the old wells to push out residual oil that has evaded conventional methods of extraction. And the IRA did not even end federal subsidies to fossil-fuel companies, which could have saved somewhere between $10 and $50 billion annually. Taken together, these policies could extend the operation of existing coal and gas power plants much further into the future.