When government works
“To meet this climate moment, federal, state, and local governments, together with the private sector, must build on the Inflation Reduction Act and rapidly modernize our aging electric grid.” (Getty Images)
Did you ever hear someone complain about government? Did you ever hear someone not complain about government, more like it?
From the diner to the debate stage and across social media, it has become a ritual, almost reflexive, practice among Americans to pooh-pooh all things emanating from Washington, D.C. In fact, listening to the recent Republican presidential debate, you would think we are living in a failed state.
There is no doubt that D.C. leaves much to be desired when it comes to meeting the needs of ordinary Americans. Having spent nearly two decades trying to stop the corrupting influence of big money in politics, I’m no stranger to such critiques. In op-eds like this one and many other forums, I have condemned government’s failure to address the causes and consequences of systemic poverty, racial inequality, and environmental degradation, among other issues.
But what if our government gets things right sometimes? What do we say when the evidence is clear that policies in Washington are actually advancing our shared priorities, like a healthy economy, a growing middle class, and a livable planet? In the face of an anti-government onslaught from one of the two main political parties, have we retained enough faith in the power of collective action to solve society’s biggest problems that we are willing to invest the needed effort, both inside and outside government? Or will we throw in the towel on big solutions altogether?
Which brings me to a peculiar anniversary of the kind I have never celebrated before: passage of a new federal law known as the Inflation Reduction Act one year ago. More than tackling inflation, which fell from 8.3 percent last August to 3.7 percent today, the Inflation Reduction Act is the biggest step America has ever taken to spur private investment in rebuilding our nation’s once-proud manufacturing base and our aging energy infrastructure to ensure a livable climate for future generations.
According to census data, real spending on private manufacturing and industrial construction is at its highest point since record keeping began in 1964, aided by $278 billion in new clean energy manufacturing investments announced since the Inflation Reduction Act became law. That’s 27 percent higher than the previous peak in 1966.
These new private-sector investments in clean energy manufacturing represent over 170,000 additional jobs for electricians, mechanics, construction workers, and countless other roles. Most of the new clean energy jobs don’t require a college degree and earn substantially higher and more equitable wages than the national average. They’re also concentrated in disadvantaged communities, which have seen lower wages and higher unemployment in the past. All told, the Inflation Reduction Act is projected to create over 1.5 million new private-sector jobs in the coming decade.
The benefits aren’t limited to expanding job opportunities and better wages. For families like ours that are concerned about the high cost of energy and looking to do our part to address the climate crisis, the Inflation Reduction Act is a game-changer. The law provides up to $1,200 per year in tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades like new windows and insulation; another $2,000 in tax credits for electric heat pumps for heating and cooling; 30 percent off the cost of solar and battery installations; and a $7,500 tax credit to purchase an electric car or truck.
These investments save individual families thousands of dollars a year in future energy costs while slashing our carbon emissions, as our own family has seen firsthand. Taken together, American families are expected to save between $27 billion and $38 billion on their electricity bills from 2022-2030 as a direct result of the Inflation Reduction Act.
As a member of the burgeoning clean energy economy – 30,156 workers strong in New Hampshire – I have seen first-hand how the Inflation Reduction Act has enabled local families, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and towns to invest in cost-saving clean energy projects. Nationwide, we’ve seen thousands of clean solar, wind, and battery projects that were stalled a year ago come back to life, putting America on a path to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
Is the Inflation Reduction Act enough to ensure a livable future on its own? The science says no. So does our own lived experience in a rapidly warming climate, marked by deadly wildfires and droughts, hurricanes and floods, and over 350,000 excess American deaths annually due to fossil fuel pollution.
To meet this climate moment, federal, state, and local governments, together with the private sector, must build on the Inflation Reduction Act and rapidly modernize our aging electric grid; reduce unnecessary barriers to permitting and interconnecting clean energy projects; implement a wide array of climate mitigation initiatives from forestry to agriculture to oceans; and ensure the benefits of the energy transition truly extend to low-income communities hit first and worst by climate change.
But rather than condemn our government (and, by extension, ourselves) for the many limitations we see, we should celebrate the successes before us and affirm the power we have to solve collective problems through collective action. Indeed, the Inflation Reduction Act is not a figment of Washington; it is the unmistakable result of millions of concerned citizens, especially the young, taking to the streets and polls to demand change from government.
As the legendary New Hampshire reformer Doris “Granny D” Haddock used to say, “Democracy is not something we have – it’s something we do.” Let’s reclaim the power we have as a government of citizens to build our clean and just electric future together.
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