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Can Biden Hand Out $100 Billion In Climate Grants Before Trump Is Reelected Or Released From Prison?
We bet the administration will manage OK.
Damn, we really wish the rest of America would please just come to its senses and fall in love with Joe Biden’s signature climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) like we have. The name is a big part of the problem. “Inflation reduction” was a concession to get Joe Manchin on board. Can laws get better names retroactively, maybe something as simple as the “American Climate Plan”?
It’s the biggest climate action the US has ever taken, and while it got attention recently on the first anniversary of its signing, we sometimes think we should be going up to people in the street and telling them just how much it’s already doing in moving the US toward a renewable energy economy. That long-delayed transition is no longer a “gonna happen,” it’s a “happening right now” — just this week, the London-based energy think tank Ember released an analysis that found roughly half the world’s economies are “five years past peak fossil-fuelled power generation” (silly British spelling!). Obviously that’s not due to the IRA, from just over a year ago, but it’s a measure of progress.
Stupid Inflation Reduction Act, Growing Economy And Decreasing Emissions And Capping Grandma's Insulin And
Biden’s Right: Addressing Climate Means Jobs
As Yr Wonkette has reported previously, the tax incentives in the IRA — both for buyers of EVs and for manufacturers — have already led to a boom in planned US battery factories, as well as a lot of other clean energy investments. Goldman Sachs estimated earlier this year that, since the programs run through 2032 and have no spending cap, total IRA investments in clean energy will approach $1.2 trillion over the next decade, spurring Crom only knows how much in spin-off investments, jobs, and growth.
On Thursday, Heatmap published an update on another tranche of spending built into the IRA, its $110 billion in grant programs, of which the administration has awarded the first $11.8 billion so far. But what a range of grants! Let us nerd out together:
There’s more than $100 million for protecting the Pacific Ocean’s salmon and steelhead fisheries.
Hundreds of millions more to plant urban canopies in Atlanta, Phoenix, and dozens of other cities.
$1 billion for two new weather research ships for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and tens of millions for mapping the best “fuel breaks” — roads, rivers, and other natural features that will slow wildfires in Colorado, Wyoming, and other states.
Most initial funding has gone to existing federal programs, to fund climate programs in the Agriculture Department, to upgrade the nation’s national energy research labs, to hire more conservation scientists for US Fish and Wildlife, to make federal buildings more energy efficient, and so on. The second-largest single grant, around $3 billion, has already gone to the Postal Service to fund an entirely new fleet of delivery vehicles, the vast majority of which will be EVs. (They should start hitting the streets in 2026.)
Still Building Charging Stations On The Road To Utopia
So far, new programs created by the IRA are still ramping up, and haven’t yet started funding grants, because that’s how government programs do unless you’re trying to shovel money out during a pandemic to prevent an economic crash. (Yes! You can absolutely say the climate crisis calls for similar alacrity, albeit with more oversight to prevent grifting.)
Heatmap offers some for-instances where the programs are still coming on line:
The EPA has yet to start making grants from its $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, for instance, a multi-purpose fund which will eventually help capitalize dozens of green banks and provide loans to cut the cost of rooftop solar.
The IRA also provided nearly $10 billion to the USDA to help rural electric cooperatives decarbonize their power plants; that money has yet to flow as well.
But that doesn’t mean everyone at EPA just farts around all day reading Wonkette and picking fights on Twitter, because a lot of people have already moved to Bluesky. (Here’s a little Easter Egg for attentive readers: I had five Bluesky invite codes for alert readers, but they are all now distributed. Read Wonkette carefully and you may spot the next bunch I give away!) Rather, the White House explained in a statement that it’s already “launched” $70 billion in IRA grant and rebate programs, which Heatmap translates to mean that the feds “may have opened up applications to receive funding from those programs, but not yet awarded any money from them.”
For an analogy, consider the the pace of another major Biden climate program, this one under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Its $5 billion “National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI)” program granted states funds to build out a network of EV charging stations. Joe Biden signed the BIL into law on November 15, 2021, but that didn’t make charging stations just start popping up like itinerant preachers on college campuses on a nice spring day.
The Departments of Energy and Transportation had to design the NEVI grant program, then states had to apply to for approval of their plans, set up their own bidding processes and determine where stations would go, and all that. That’s why it took not quite two years after BIL passed for Ohio to announce last week (without even thanking Joe!) that it had become the first state to break ground on a fast-charging station funded by the program.
People should start seeing NEVI-funded charging stations around the country in 2024 going forward. Oh, hey, want to see how your own state’s doing with its EV charging station progress? There’s a federal website for that! Thanks a lot, Biden!
If You Fund It, They Will Build
In other words, look for the pace of IRA grant spending to pick up in the coming year and beyond, and for example, for those rural electric co-ops to start greening up, at least in places where Trumpers aren’t fretting that solar panels will poison the groundwater. (They won’t.)
There’s some concern that IRA money needs to go out before the end of 2024, to get climate progress into the pipeline before any chance that Donald Trump might return to the White House and mandate that coal be served with all school lunches. The IRA would have to be repealed by Congress to fully reverse it, but any Republican administration could certainly use the levers of executive power to effectively gut much of it, as that “Project 2025” wet dream for dismantling democracy from the Heritage Foundation lays out.
Of more immediate concern to many Democrats is that some of the IRA’s key rebate programs for home energy upgrades — particularly a program promoting energy efficiency/weatherization, and another focused on electrifying homes — aren’t yet available to consumers. The Energy Department hasn’t yet finalized the necessary rules, which leaves states waiting for the funding that will help them set up and administer the rebates.
As a result, some of the rebates won’t be available until next year, which has led to frustration for consumers who want to green up their homes and for companies who’d be happy to install insulation, better windows, efficient appliances, and smart circuit breaker panels. Potential customers are holding off on projects until the rebates are available, and that in turn means companies aren’t yet staffing up to meet the demand.
That will of course get worked out, the sooner the better, and there are other factors — especially current high interest rates — that are holding back some parts of the energy transition. (My personal pet theory is that the Energy Department regulators might be doing their damnedest to bulletproof the rules from legal challenges, and that takes time and deliberation. This is pure speculation on my part, but informed by the rightwing reaction to many other federal programs like Obamacare, EPA regulations, and Biden’s student loan forgiveness proposal.)
Happily, Heatmap notes, while consumers and contractors await the availability of those grant programs, another IRA program is already up and running that’ll augment the green transition: a “$200 million program meant to train home contractors to install heat pumps and other home efficiency measures” will begin awarding grants on November 1.
Oh no, jobs, clean energy, and economic growth! Sounds like hell, huh?
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