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One year on, how has the Inflation Reduction Act impacted climate action in the U.S.?


It's been one year since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. The legislation is meant to reinvigorate the U.S. economy and help address climate change by moving the country away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. But a year in, has it really helped the U.S. properly deal with the threat of climate change? Well, earlier today, I spoke with Gina McCarthy. She's the former climate policy adviser for President Biden and helped shape the law. And I asked her if the scale of the act is really achievable, given that there have been concerns over obtaining enough raw materials to transition to more renewable sources, materials like lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper.

GINA MCCARTHY: There's already international discussions - and it started even before the IRA was completed - about, how do we understand all of these supply chains? And really, the Inflation Reduction Act was about, basically, bringing them back home again. And so there are going to be challenges, without question, moving forward. But right now, all we're seeing is remarkable private sector investment. I mean, we are talking about investment that's rebuilding supply chains here in the United States, not just for solar, but for electric vehicles. We're talking about wind now that's being developed in the U.S. And even in New York, we have now wind turbines being constructed. It's just amazing opportunities right now.

CHANG: But do you think enough of the American public actually knows what the Inflation Reduction Act is? I mean, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released last week found that 71% of the people who responded knew little or absolutely nothing about the Inflation Reduction Act. So why do you think that is?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's new. There's a lot in it. And frankly, when you have something like this go through the legislature and get signed by the president, it makes it important, but not a done deal, right? Families need to understand the benefits here. They need to understand the tax credits available so they can have rooftop solar and heat pumps and improve their energy efficiency, get electric vehicles, whether they're new or they're used. And so there's rebates that are open to consumers, but they won't know that unless we do outreach. Local governments need to engage. State governments need to engage.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about how to compel more action at the state level. I mean, there is an urgent need for more resources to combat climate change, to facilitate this transition away from fossil fuels. But because of stalled conversations with Republicans in Congress, I imagine that there's even more pressure for the federal government to collaborate with Republicans at the state level. But how does the Biden administration engage with states where legislation is still in place that enforces reliance on fossil fuels?

MCCARTHY: We're learning some lessons here. You know, in the Inflation Reduction Act, people were worried that maybe red states and Republican leaders in those states wouldn't take advantage of these resources. That's proven to be very incorrect because it's real money that really matters that will benefit families. So part of the challenge we have here is just to try to depoliticize this. Now, I know that may sound like a fantasy, but money is money. Challenges that we are seeing at the local level, challenges we're seeing about drought in the U.S., heat that we've never seen before - people are getting it. They understand it. What we need to do is support them in how we can all work together to make the kind of change and shift to clean energy that we need.

CHANG: I do feel like we keep having conversations about the need to have more conversations about climate change, but it's unclear to me how the conversation with Republicans is actually shifting on climate change. Can you talk about how the Inflation Reduction Act, if at all, has changed those conversations? Or how can the Biden administration in the future try to change that conversation among Republicans?

MCCARTHY: The way in which the Inflation Reduction Act was designed was to make sure that resources would be available and provided to every red and blue state. And what we're seeing now is announcements of projects being constructed, groundbreakings are happening with Republicans and Democrats in attendance, because what we're seeing is that the Inflation Reduction Act makes these things real to people. It makes these investments something that people can see and feel and touch and become hopeful about again.

You know, we have so much challenges, with the droughts and the heat and other climate-related impacts, that, you know, it could make people turn off this conversation. The Inflation Reduction Act said climate change is a challenge, but we can meet it because we have the technologies and practices and policies that we can put in place that will make the world hopeful again.

CHANG: Gina McCarthy. She's President Biden's former chief adviser on domestic climate change policy and the new managing co-chair of America Is All In. Thank you very much for joining us today.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tinbete Ermyas
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.