Joe Cools the U.S.

On August 16, President Joe Biden secured one of the biggest legislation victories of his career, signing $369 billion to invest in infrastructure to cut down on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

The bill isn’t perfect, Sen. Jeff Merkley tells Eugene Weekly in a recent visit, as he would have wanted to see the more aggressive climate action that Rep. Peter DeFazio had proposed in the past, but it’s a step toward supporting renewable energy. 

Eugene Water and Energy Board public policy and government affairs program manager Jason Heuser says EWEB — and the rest of the country — will see some benefits, as will ratepayers in forms of rebates on items such as appliances and electric vehicles.

The law has a lot of benefits for consumers, Heuser says, including water heaters, heat pumps, rooftop solar panels and more. “All sorts of technologies out there that we know save money,” he says. Projects include funding more energy-efficient appliances, or supporting retrofitting houses so EWEB doesn’t have to buy power from other energy sources. Reducing emissions through electricity demand is a way to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, he adds. 

The law will replenish some electric vehicle tax credits, Heuser says. The federal government’s electric vehicle rebate system has a limit on vehicle models and the popular ones — such as Tesla cars —have been maxed out already. 

Heuser says the rebate under the IRA is written so it kicks in at the sale, rather than when the customer files their taxes. “For some people, that’s no big deal. But for other people, you know, that can make a real difference if you have to basically have that out-of-pocket cost and wait to be compensated,” he adds. 

Merkley says that DeFazio had a superior bill on infrastructure and mass transportation. “They should’ve taken his bill and it’s frustrating that they didn’t,” he adds. 

The bill that passed has significant fossil fuel strategies that will be harmful for the environment, such as supporting the natural gas industry. “If we sustain a fossil gas industry — or massively expand it — our planet’s toast,” he adds. “Methane is such a devastating element in trapping heat.” 

That doesn’t mean that Merkley is against the IRA. 

He says the legislation is a sign that the U.S. is working toward becoming a renewable energy country — not fossil fuel one — between 2030 and 2035, “you have to deploy a massive amount of solar and wind to make that happen.” 

Renewable energy sources can’t compete against fossil fuels, Merkley adds. Because Congress lacks the political will to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies, the next best thing was to create improved subsidies for renewable energy. 

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Biden’s plan will result in a decrease of the deficit by $90 billion from 2022 to 2031. The law’s intent was to address inflation through reducing the national deficit, and it also lowers prescription drugs. 

Although the IRA was signed into law by Biden, the money isn’t going to be sent to government agencies right away, Heuser says. But EWEB is happy to see the country taking action again. 

“We’re overjoyed to see the United States back in the saddle in a leadership role,” he says. “We’re back in the game. This is a massive generational investment.”