States Will Decide How Much Democrats’ Historic Climate Deal Actually Cuts Emissions

by | Aug 13, 2022 | Politics

Democrats’ deal to spend billions on clean energy tax credits could spur development of enough carbon-cutting infrastructure to slash planet-heating emissions in the world’s largest economy by 40%, putting the United States’ climate goal in reach. But states will ultimately decide how quickly and how much of the Inflation Reduction Act actually ends up reducing emissions. AdvertisementShould a power plant owner build a gas-fired plant with carbon capture technology or go with renewables? Public service commissioners and regional grid operators will decide. Key permitting requirements? Various state regulatory agencies are in charge there. Can transmission lines or pipelines pass through a tract of rural land? County officials will choose whether to rezone the property. On its current trajectory, the U.S. is on track to cut its emissions by about 30% compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade, when nearly two dozen coal-fired power plants are scheduled to close ahead of new environmental regulations taking effect. Once President Joe Biden signed the so-called IRA into law, the $369 billion earmarked for heat pumps, wind farms and carbon-capture infrastructure could slash emissions another 10% or so, three separate independent analyses found. Combined with last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, the legislation outlines the first permanent national strategy to stop the world’s No. 1 cumulative emitter from adding more warming gasses to the atmosphere. Alone it is insufficient to slow the planet’s rising temperatures. But if passed, the 10-year torrent of tax credits and subsidies it provides would give U.S. negotiators leverage for what’s really needed to change the planet’s temperature trajectory: a binding global decarbonization deal that includes China, India and Russia. A 300-foot crane slowly lifts a rotor onto a tower on the Lone Star Wind Farm near Abilene, Texas. Robert Nickelsberg via Getty ImagesAdvertisementYet federal funding can only go so far in a country where a patchwork of jurisdictions and slow-moving bureaucracies rarely align on the need to quickly construct large-scale clean energy projects. The 19 gigawatts of solar panels the U.S. installed last year brought the country’s total capacity to about 93 gigawatts. But to achieve the IRA’s goals, the U.S. needs to add at least 117 gigawatts per year between 2029 and 2032, when the bill’s tax credits expire.A growth rate that huge would require every U.S. state to install 2.3 gigawatts per year. Just two states – Texas and California – are currently hitting those numbers. Solar panels need a lot of space and blue-sky weather, something not every state has. So many states will need to build far more than that to compensate for others.Since large-scale solar requires a lot of land, and most states don’t have as much of that as California and Texas, other states will need to make up the difference with even higher rates of solar growth. And that’s just one of the many types of projects needed to bring emissions down. “Whether or not you have tens of billions of dollars in federal incentives, unless the state utility commission decides it wants to deploy more zero-carbon resources, it’s not going to happen,” said Tyler Norris, a North Carolina-based renewable-energy developer and the co-chair of the Clean Power Suppliers Association. AdvertisementPolarized StatesThe vast majority of American adults understand that the climate is changing and support policies that shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels. But as more cities and states adopt laws to phase out gas and build more wind turbines, the fossil fuel industry has struck back in states where it dominates. Republican states led by Oklahoma sued the Obama administration over its emis …

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