I started working on energy issues and climate change in 2006 when I was the Executive Director of Alaska Conservation Alliance and Alaska Conservation Voters. In 2008, I was the only Alaskan invited to participate in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Global Climate Summit.
The room was filled with government, business and NGO leaders from around the world. I distinctly remember the ripple of euphoria in the crowd when then-President-elect Barack Obama surprised the conference with a special videotaped message on climate change. In no uncertain terms, he committed to the goals of greenhouse gas reductions and promised legislation that would establish a price on carbon. At last! The possibility of significant and measurable action on climate change had arrived! It was a highlight moment for many of us, all high-fiving and dancing in the aisles.
Little did I imagine that President Obama would use up all his political capital on the Affordable Care Act; nor could I ever imagine that Big Oil would be successful in a decade-long campaign of climate denial. And never in my wildest notions did I imagine the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Nor did I think a market-based approach accepted by 40 industrialized countries would be an impossible lift for the U.S. Congress.
While progress on climate change has been made within the last 14 years through federal executive action, responsible businesses, entrepreneurs, universities, non-profits, state legislatures and local government, it’s been more incremental than transformative (not withstanding renewable energy achieving grid parity with coal). In essence, the big federal legislative ‘at last’ on climate change never did materialize — until now.
The oddly named Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides consumers, utilities and businesses with such a strong myriad of tax incentives to produce clean energy that financing and producing dirty energy will soon become the least wise investment. As explained by Bill Gates and former Vice-President Al Gore, the financial calculus has irrevocably been re-directed away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. In a New York Times opinion piece, Gates wrote, “through new and expanded tax credits and a long-term approach, this bill ensures that critical climate solutions have sustained support to develop into new industries.” Being far more immersed in the politics of climate change, Gore said he is now sure the fossil-fuel industry and its political backers will not be able to reverse the shift to a decarbonized world, even if Republicans are able to wrest back control of Congress or the White House.
Here in Alaska, the Inflation Reduction Act offers some game-changing features. Chris Rose, the Executive Director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), says, “There are many things in the bill that will help Alaska. For example, the $27 billion Clean Energy Accelerator in the legislation is essentially a federal green bank that will propel and support Alaska’s own effort to establish a state green bank to offer affordable loans to average Alaskans who want to make their homes more energy efficient, or add rooftop solar.”
There is also a $1 billion renewable energy loan program for rural electric cooperatives and $2.6 billion to NOAA for restoration and protection of marine habitats and for projects that sustain coastal communities.
For consumers, there are subsidies to reduce the price of electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels and other energy-efficient improvements. I could go on about more good things in this bill but suffice it to say, this time for real, it’s time to cue up Etta James belting out her signature song: “At Last.”
At last, America and Alaska have been given the blueprint and support to undeniably move into the clean-energy economy that the rest of the world has embraced. At last, the U.S. is back in the climate game — and at such a critical time, when climate change is in full crisis mode, as noted by the many weather-related disasters in our headlines.
Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.
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