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Mark Trahant
ICT

President Joe Biden Sunday said he was optimistic that the Inflation Reduction Act would become law. The Senate passed the legislation on Sunday on a 51 to 50 vote and the House will take up the measure this week. It’s a packed bill, a plan to spend $740 billion to address inflation, climate change, infrastructure and taxes. 

On Sunday Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said: "The Senate is making history. I am confident the Inflation Reduction Act will endure as one of the defining legislative measures of the 21st century.”

The House vote will be complicated stage. Democrats will have to be united on the legislation, even though there are pieces of the bill that many oppose because it’s unlikely that any Republicans will support the measure.

In the Senate debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed amendments to the legislation that would have targeted the oil and gas industry, but was defeated 99 to 1. One tweet described the senator as “more irritable than usual” after his proposed amendments only earned his own vote.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Schatz, a Hawai‘i Democrat, said the act’s passage will mean new resources to support Native communities’ climate and energy priority. “Native communities have the technical expertise, capacity, and place-based knowledge needed to develop effective climate change and energy solutions,” said Schatz. “With critical investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re making sure the federal government steps up to support Native-driven climate resilience, advance Tribal energy development, and fulfill its trust responsibility to Native communities.”

Provisions that impact Indigenous communities include:

  • $272.5 million to Native communities for climate resilience and adaptation, including;
  • $25 million in targeted climate resilience funding to the Native Hawaiian community for the first time ever;
  • $12.5 million to mitigate drought impacts for tribes; and
  • $10 million for tribal fish hatcheries;
  • $150 million for tribal home electrification;
  • $75 million for loans to Tribes for energy development; and
  • A tenfold increase (from $2 billion to $20 billion) in loan guarantees for tribal energy development.

Many environmental groups, including those that represent Indigenous points of view, have been critical of the legislation. 

A letter from NDN Collective to congressional leaders urged them to “hold the line” on new fossil fuel development.

“Tying essential climate resilience infrastructure and resource conservation efforts to continued fossil fuel development is both politically weak and a grave danger to people and the planet – especially to the Indigenous communities whose land is systematically targeted and destroyed by the fossil fuel industry,” said Jade Begay, NDN Collective climate justice director and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We cannot continue deferring the climate crisis to future generations. We are calling on the people in the highest positions of power to use every tool available to advance a truly just, renewable energy future.”

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The Inflation Reduction Act is not that legislation. It’s more akin to “don’t just stand there … do something.” Instead of truly just, it’s just good enough. But it’s also good enough to win 51 votes in the Senate and that has been missing from previous climate initiatives.

Then supporters say the legislation is better than just good enough. A study by Princeton said enactment would cut emissions by about 1 billion metric tons by 2030, lowering emissions by some 42 percent from 2005 levels. This will result in a savings of “at least 4 percent” in what people pay for energy by 2030 (hence the inflation reduction claims).

Princeton’s Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit says the primary benefit of the legislation is to speed the use of clean energy vehicles.

Transportation is the single largest contributor to carbon emissions.

The Princeton team says another benefit is make it easier to adopt clean energy and other climate solutions across the nation. “The Act also makes it easier for executive agencies, state and local governments, and private sector leaders to increase their ambitions and help close the remaining 0.5 billion ton gap left” to reach a 50 percent carbon emissions reduction goal by the end of this decade,” the researchers wrote.

Indeed the role of the private sector – and economics – may be the key to this legislation delivering the promised results. For example, one of the provisions, that environmentalists particularly dislike, is a provision that gives tax credits for coal electricity plants to retrofit as “clean energy” using carbon capture technology. But that might be a theoretical credit because if utility companies, many mandated to buy clean energy, stay away from coal in any form, then the plant retrofits might not be feasible. Already the cost of energy production from coal is higher than many green sources, especially solar and wind.

Previous stories:
A billion dollar plan to save coal
Gambling on a climate deal
Only path: ‘dismantle coal infrastructure’
The only road to Net Zero runs though Indigenous lands

What the Inflation Reduction Act does, according to a memo sent to House Democrats by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Reduces the cost of health care for millions by extending ACA subsidies for three more years; allows Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs; combats the climate crisis by reducing carbon pollution by roughly 40 percent by 2030; and lowers energy costs and advances energy security.”

She said the agreement would both reduce the deficit and help limit inflation by implementing a 15 percent corporate minimum tax and strengthening IRS enforcement for existing tax laws.

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor-at-large for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. The Indigenous Economics Project is funded with a major grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations. 

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