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Perspective: How conservatives should view the climate provisions in the inflation act

It’s not a ‘socialist wish list.’ There are initiatives within the bill that conservatives can and should support

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A firefighter clears loose brush from around a Sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, Calif., in July 2022.

A firefighter clears loose brush from around a Sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, Calif., in July 2022. The Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress contains funding for increased protection of private and public forest land.

Garrett Dickman, National Park Service via AP

We’ve all heard the news: The most historic investment to fight climate change passed the U.S. House and Senate last week and was quickly signed into law by President Joe Biden. The narratives we’ve heard, however, have been presented in completely different ways.

One group of Americans is saying the Inflation Reduction Act is the best possible solution for the American economy — that it won’t raise taxes or nudge inflation even higher — while claiming its passage will slash American carbon emissions by an additional 10%.

Another segment of people are saying the act is the Green New Deal in disguise, hurting “the American people every single day with tax audits, increased energy prices and increased taxes,” as U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, said.

And for a large group of radical climate activists, the act doesn’t do enough. They’re saying it will “poison our communities” and is “bending a knee to dirty energy.”

So, as a conservative — who also cares deeply about our environment — how should I feel about it? 

First of all, the Inflation Reduction Act includes many provisions completely unrelated to environmental protection and climate change — such as the IRS and health care. Of course, those provisions played a big role in how our leaders voted on the issue, as did the political process through which the bill was conceived.

The reckless government spending we’ve witnessed for decades also continues to be a serious concern of mine, especially during a time of inflation and an economic downturn. And after the Democrats’ (nearly) two-year partisan campaign to pass a more radical package — “Build Back Better” — conservative leadership was understandably skeptical to pass a 750-plus-page “compromise” that they weren’t involved with from the get-go.

However, despite the rhetoric that the act represents a Green New Deal “socialist wish list,” there are many common sense — and shockingly conservative — measures related to fighting climate change that will boost our nation’s economy, help to revitalize rural communities, lower energy prices and protect the landscapes we love. 

For instance, it provides funding for the protection of coastal habitats and also for wildlife prevention efforts on public and private forest land. It offers increased opportunities for clean nuclear energy, and investment in innovative technologies like sustainable aviation fuels, which American airline companies have been pursuing.

The act puts a major emphasis on scaling American manufacturing to reduce our reliance on China (and other nations) for our energy and materials needs. Most importantly, there is a heavy focus on re-tooling closed traditional energy facilities in an effort to revitalize those communities, as well as providing significant investment to aid American farming and agricultural communities. 

Although the process was incredibly flawed and the bill includes controversial non-climate measures, conservatives should see that there are some objectively good elements of this bill. 

More than that, the provisions of the bill still have to be implemented, and conservatives should claim a seat at the table to ensure that this happens correctly. It will help no one if conservatives throw their hands up and sit on the sidelines during the implementation process.

Finally, the way in which the Inflation Reduction Act was passed should serve as a wake-up call to conservatives, reminding us that if we’re not engaged on climate with our own ideas, we’re losing. That’s why a conservative approach, like my organization’s “Climate Commitment,” is so critical.

It should be clear that the Inflation Reduction Act is far from the end of the climate conversation. And since we still have a long way to go, conservatives must claim their place on this path … or be left out entirely.

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition. Follow him on Twitter @BenjiBacker.