Op-ed: Plenty of drawbacks in Inflation Reduction Act

Aug 20, 2022

Eric Engle


Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., shocked us all recently when he agreed to support, and then voted to actually pass, climate and energy legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. As expected, though, the legislation is a mixed bag at best.

An analysis by Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and climate policy firm, finds that the legislation, if enacted, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 870-1,150 million metric tons in 2030, dropping U.S. emissions to 37% – 41% below 2005 levels by that year. The analysis also concludes that the legislation will add 1.4 million -1.5 million new jobs and reduce premature deaths by 3,700-3,900 per year in the U.S. by 2030.

Rewiring America, a nonprofit group, estimates that energy efficiency (i.e. heat pumps and insulation) and solar + battery tax incentives in the legislation could save households $1,800 a year on energy costs, and analysts with the Political Economy Research Institute, according to a BlueGreen Alliance fact sheet, estimate the creation of more like 9 million good jobs over the next decade. Coupled with environmental justice initiatives for socioeconomically disadvantaged and systemically oppressed communities, there’s a lot to be happy about in the bill.

Now for the major downsides, aka the Manchin concessions. Manchin secured promises from congressional leaders and the President to pass legislation by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30 that will almost certainly guarantee completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project in West Virginia and Virginia and ease permitting requirements for other fossil fuels energy projects like Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals.

He also secured provisions that will open up 620 million acres of land and water over the next decade to oil and gas exploitation, especially in already overexploited areas like the Gulf Coast.

Why? Manchin says we’ve got to counter Russia and continue our reliance on fossil fuels indefinitely for reasons of energy security and reliability. This makes for great PR, but always follow the money. According to reporting in The New York Times, “Natural gas pipeline companies have dramatically increased their contributions to Mr. Manchin, from just $20,000 in 2020 to more than $331,000 so far this election cycle, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission and tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Manchin has been by far Congress’s largest recipient of money from natural gas pipeline companies this cycle, raising three times as much from the industry than any other lawmaker.”

The International Energy Agency, an entity that is anything but a bastion of environmentalist sentiment, has said that we cannot develop any new fossil fuels resources and still meet the Paris Climate Accords goals of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or ideally 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, over a preindustrial baseline. Manchin may not care, but posterity certainly will.

We can do better. A recent piece in PV-Magazine covered how “New research from Stanford University researcher Mark Jacobson outlines how 145 countries could meet 100% of their business-as-usual energy needs with wind, water, solar and energy storage. The study finds that in all the countries considered, lower-cost energy and other benefits mean the required investment for transition is paid off within six years. The study also estimates that worldwide, such a transition would create 28 million more jobs than it lost.”

The Build Back Better Act that the U.S. House passed in 2021 was far superior to this legislation and Manchin is the reason it died. Now we get a sorely watered-down and, in many ways, dangerous bill because of Manchin’s inordinate power in the anti-democratic U.S. Senate. With nearly $369 billion in desperately-needed investments in renewable energies and energy efficiency, we can’t really afford to say no to the Inflation Reduction Act. I don’t blame House and Senate Democrats for passing it. But is it a Pyrrhic victory? I guess time will tell.

To quote climate and energy writer Kate Aronoff, writing for The Guardian, “This bill is woefully inadequate, featuring a cruel, casual disregard for those at home and abroad who will live with the consequences of boosting fossil fuel production as a bargaining chip for boosting clean energy. And it’s almost certainly better than nothing.”


Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.