Climate Corner: Inflation Reduction Act offers hope

Aug 27, 2022

Eric Engle

The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has been both applauded and looked upon with disappointment by many in the environmental movement, but one important aspect of the law has mostly been overlooked. The law directly addresses the ruling the U.S. Supreme Court made this past term in the case West Virginia v. EPA.

To quote from a piece in the New York Times, “Throughout the landmark climate law, passed this month, is language written specifically to address the Supreme Court’s justification for reining in the EPA, a ruling that was one of the court’s most consequential of the term. The new law amends the Clean Air Act, the country’s bedrock air-quality legislation, to define the carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels as an “air pollutant.” That language, according to legal experts as well as the Democrats who worked it into the legislation, explicitly gives the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and to use its power to push the adoption of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., was quoted in the Times piece as saying, “The language, we think, makes pretty clear that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act.” Carper added that there are “no ifs, ands or buts” that Congress has now explicitly told federal agencies that they must tackle carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping emissions from industrial and other sources.

This is very important because the Inflation Reduction Act itself must not be the final word from this or any future congress and presidential administration on addressing the global climate crisis. It was one important step in the right direction, with numerous drawbacks and flaws that can be laid at the feet of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. Senate Republicans tried numerous times in multiple way to exclude this language from the bill, but the Senate Parliamentarian allowed the language in this budget reconciliation legislation and there was nothing else they could do to remove it.

The Republican Party is well-known for its attempts to dismantle the administrative state and eliminate the federal government’s ability to oversee and regulate the activities of industries, corporations, and private entities of all kinds. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was continuing that ideological crusade when he drove the West Virginia v. EPA suit through to victory at the nation’s highest court. But this legislation answered back in the affirmative that administrative bodies like EPA can and must be able to protect the citizenry from things like harmful air pollutants, including excess greenhouse gases.

Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action has joined with hundreds of other groups and organizations across the country to demand that President Biden declare a climate emergency, therein unlocking powerful tools needed to further combat the global climate crisis. And make no mistake, “crisis” is precisely the right word to use. We are witnessing firsthand the dire consequences of approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius warming over a preindustrial baseline.

These include massive precipitation and flooding events becoming more frequent and severe; loss of Arctic, Antarctic and other glacial land ice, as well as sea ice; sea-level rise; record-setting droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires; stronger and more destructive hurricanes and other storms that move more slowly and hover over particular areas for longer due to warming impacts on the jet streams; increased geographic area of disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks and zoonotic viruses like SARS-CoV-2; crop failures and loss of potable water; and massive biodiversity loss. This is not an exhaustive list.

The Inflation Reduction Act largely continues a legacy in the United States, prevalent since the 1980s, of the federal government subsidizing the private sector and trying to use a lot more carrot than stick to motivate, rather than force. Robert Reich recently wrote on this trend stating that, “In truth, the three decades-long shift in power to big corporations has transformed industrial policy into a system for bribing them to do the sorts of things government once demanded they do as the price for being part of the American system.” But hidden in this 725-page bill is hope that the federal government can once again take its regulatory authority seriously in an era of existential threats.


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