House Republicans look to dismantle Biden's climate change law

U.S. President Joe Biden (C) signs The Inflation Reduction Act with (L-R) Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Kathy Catsor (D-FL) in the State Dining Room of the White House August 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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On Wednesday, House Republican leaders unveiled a budget proposal that would roll back all federal spending enacted since 2021, including the $370 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) allocated to address climate change.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Bloomberg Law that the bill would “end the green giveaways to companies that distort the market and waste taxpayers’ money.”

The IRA’s tax credits for deploying solar and wind energy, buying electric vehicles and replacing fossil fuel-burning boilers with electric heat pumps are all on the chopping block in the GOP plan. Additionally, it seeks to boost fossil fuel production through loosening permitting requirements for pipelines and refineries and would repeal a fee for leakage of methane — a powerful planet-warming gas — in oil and gas infrastructure.

The Republican budget proposal faces virtually no chance of passage in the Senate, and would almost certainly be vetoed by President Biden. But it further illustrates a stark partisan divide when it comes to addressing the threat posed by rising global temperatures.

Climate activists, who rejoiced last year at the passage of the IRA — the largest policy initiative in history to address climate change — immediately slammed the Republican bill as a step backwards.

Kevin McCarthy
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaking with reporters on Wednesday. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

“The bill is really a hodgepodge of not only rolling back the key wins we got in the IRA last year, it goes even further,” Mahyar Sorour, deputy legislative director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels program, told Yahoo News. Sorour said the land management provisions include “a slew of rollbacks to critical protections,” such as the National Environmental Policy Act.

Dubbed the “Limit, Save, Grow Act,” the GOP budget would raise the debt ceiling — which must happen by early June to avert the U.S. default on debt payments — while rolling back spending to fiscal year 2022 levels, the year before the passage of Biden’s signature climate law. It would also impose a 1% cap on future federal spending for the next decade, with exceptions for the Department of Defense and some related national security spending.

In addition to the IRA’s climate spending, Republicans would remove the funds it included for the Internal Revenue Service to beef up tax collection. Their plan would also revoke Biden’s forgiveness of student loans of up to $10,000 and impose work requirements on recipients of food stamps and Medicaid — which the Congressional Budget Office projects would kick millions of Americans off of those programs.

Some Republican House members have targeted the climate and clean energy programs specifically. Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a member of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, told Roll Call on Tuesday that repealing clean energy and electrification tax credits is “essential” for him to support a debt ceiling increase.

Rep. Bob Good
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., at a news conference on the debt limit in March. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and McCarthy joined House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, to introduce the bill on Wednesday. The GOP House leaders and Arrington issued a statement arguing that — in light of the increases to the debt that have occurred under Biden — a debt ceiling increase should be paired with spending cuts.

“We must address record spending now,” the Republican leaders’ stated. “If we don’t, America will be weaker and families will be worse off.”

The statement made two references to Biden policies that they believe make the U.S. “dependent on China,” and argued that their proposal would reduce that dependency. Republicans have repeatedly expressed concern that increasing U.S. adoption of electric vehicles and solar panels will leave the country reliant on China, which leads the world in manufacturing of those products and mining the rare minerals required for their components.

The IRA limits tax credits on electric vehicles and solar panels to those whose components are mostly manufactured in the U.S. Those provisions of the law have sparked a domestic manufacturing boom, and climate activists predict that repealing the clean-energy subsidies would cripple a fast-growing industry.

“The market signal that these tax incentives have played has borne out, in terms of more than 200 new [utility-scale clean energy] projects coming online, because of the market signal,” Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club, told Yahoo News. “Pull those back and they become a risky proposition. The chilling effect is going to be immediate.”

Sen. Ron Wyden
Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, at a hearing on Wednesday. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“We are at the start of a clean energy boom. There’s more than 100,000 jobs that have been included since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters, told Yahoo News. “This flies in the face of all of this incredibly badly needed progress that creates jobs, saves people money on their energy bills, that protects the planet ... and here the Republicans are being so reckless.”

Many Democrats echoed that view.

“By repealing the clean energy provisions I authored in the Inflation Reduction Act, House Republicans are proposing a total surrender to the climate crisis,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, said on Wednesday. “Big Oil would celebrate, but it would be an enormous loss for American workers and manufacturers who have an opportunity to thrive as a result of the clean energy transformation the IRA is already driving across the country.”

On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., reintroduced an ambitious bill to address climate change called the “Green New Deal.” At a press conference outside the Capitol, she reiterated her commitment to the climate legislation passed by the last Congress.

“When it came to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, we started to fight,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We said, ‘We are not going to take crumbs, and that we’re not going to settle for that. We need bold, big climate action and we need it now. And that fight resulted in the largest piece of climate legislation in American history.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee hearing, March 28. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Some Republicans counter that, while the Inflation Reduction Act paid for its spending with tax increases on high earners, the actual costs would exceed the projections. Citing a study by Goldman Sachs, House Budget Committee Republican spokesperson Sarah Flaim said that the Inflation Reduction Act will cost far more than was estimated, as more models of EVs and other products qualify for subsidies. “The Inflation Reduction Acts subsidies will end up costing more than $1 trillion,” Flaim said in an email to Yahoo News. “It is absurd to suggest that a debate over fiscal policy is an inappropriate place to consider whether to change a policy that is turning out to cost $1 trillion more than Democrats said it would last year, when they passed it.”

McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Even Republicans who do consider climate change a growing threat said some spending cuts should accompany the debt ceiling increase.

“The bill released today is a good-faith effort by House Republicans to begin reining in reckless spending,” Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, founder of the Conservative Climate Caucus, said in a statement sent to Yahoo News by a spokesperson, adding, “This bill also proposes cuts to clean energy tax credits. While these credits were passed in a partisan manner, I have supported many of them individually and will continue to advocate for policies that lead to affordable, reliable and clean energy."

While Curtis accepts the science showing that greenhouse gas emissions are causing global temperatures to creep higher, many of his GOP colleagues do not.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted last Saturday that “If you believe that today’s ‘climate change’ is caused by too much carbon, you have been fooled.”

Nonpartisan analyses have found the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce emissions by 7% to 9% in this decade, bringing the U.S. closer to Biden’s goal of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030.

So far, Biden and Senate Democrats have said they will stand firm on their refusal to cut spending in exchange for the debt ceiling increase.