Federal funds, used wisely, can tackle climate change

New law puts nation on road to a sustainable society

AMERICANS CAN FINALLY breathe clean air and a sigh of relief as we see the path ahead to our clean energy future. For decades, the prospects for a livable future looked dim as we fought an uphill battle to make sure the United States would fully embrace climate action and clean energy. Congress has been holding hearings on climate change since at least the 1960s, Exxon was secretly studying its dangerous effect on the climate since at least the 1970s, and the Waxman-Markey climate legislation passed the House of Representatives in the late 2000s before dying in the Senate. But finally, Congress has taken a meaningful step toward a clean, green future. The clear and present danger of climate change is more visible and visceral than ever, but the Inflation Reduction Act represents a major victory over the physical and political machinery that created the climate crisis.

While the new law is not a panacea, it puts us unquestionably on the road to a sustainable society. It will take time to get us there, but the federal legislation lays the foundation for a domestic clean energy revolution in Massachusetts and across the nation. This revolution will be built around domestic manufacturing, lower-cost clean energy, and public financing for projects in communities like Brockton and Lawrence.

The Inflation Reduction Act will unleash dramatic advances in how we power our communities and how we build new economic opportunity in this country. It’s like the telecommunications revolution Congress enabled in the 1990s—everyone didn’t buy a cell phone at once, but that began the tectonic change in what a phone could be, and now it’s rare to find an American without one.

The same scenario is ready to unfold with clean energy. The new law makes it easier to build new offshore wind and solar power, as well as the energy storage necessary to operate a reliable, affordable, clean system. Along the way, we will create good-paying, clean energy jobs in communities like Chelsea and Springfield to power that future.

This bill gives the energy industry the tools it needs to make sound investments in the clean technology that can protect public health and lower costs for everyday consumers, rather than waste money on outdated fossil fuel technology that is destined to become a stranded asset. Every year, climate change will bring new record-breaking heat, storms, floods, and drought. As a result, every energy asset we build must be built with the future of our planet in mind.

The $369 billion in total climate and clean energy spending will open the door to a new era where climate response becomes the engine driving our economy. The Inflation Reduction Act contains revolutionary funding for residential energy improvements, clean energy manufacturing tax credits, and rebates for electric vehicles and energy-efficient technology.

States across the region are moving alongside federal action. Massachusetts just passed a sweeping climate bill that will serve as a climate economy blueprint for other states. Rhode Island passed a bill committing to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2033. Connecticut and New York are both set to not just meet, but exceed their 2040 clean electricity targets.

The promise of the Inflation Reduction Act depends on whether we can deliver on the state, regional, and local levels. We have to turn these historic federal resources into the climate-friendly future we want and need.

Finally, we must be deliberate in building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future through this work. Unlike previous economic booms, we cannot decarbonize the wealthiest half of our society, help out executives’ stock portfolios, and declare the job done. Climate response requires a whole-of-society effort and the benefits of action must accrue to all—especially those that are on the front lines of the climate crisis.

To ensure the broadest possible adoption and to repair historic harms in our environmental justice communities, the law opens up tax credits to smaller operators and communities that often have found themselves last in line when it comes to new clean technology. It contains $27 billion for a first-of-its-kind national climate bank effort, modeled on Sen. Ed Markey’s National Climate Bank Act, which is targeted specifically toward unlocking investments and building wealth in disadvantaged communities. It also provides historic levels of funding for an environmental justice mapping tool, local air monitoring provisions, and grants to reduce pollution from transportation. We are writing full participation into the law rather than leaving it to chance.

It’s not just that we’re trying to do the right thing when it comes to climate, we’re also trying to do it the right way so that progress becomes a palpable positive force in people’s lives. So, get ready, because the climate economy is about to unleash a wave of innovation, opportunity, and equity—right here in Massachusetts.

Ed Markey is a US senator from Massachusetts and Joe Curtatone is the president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the former mayor of Somerville.