April 17, 2024

Champions, Not Pillagers

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | March 16, 2024

During his State of the Union address, President Biden reminded us of his administration’s commitment to confronting the climate crisis and saving the planet from it. He and Congress already made a good start by enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, the most sweeping legislation so far to address global warming by phasing out fossil fuels and building a clean energy infrastructure and economy.

Surveys conducted by Pew Research Center in 2022 and 2023 show that two-thirds of U.S. adults say that the country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources over expanding the production of oil, coal, and natural gas, and the same share favor the U.S. taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The Pew surveys on climate issues showed stark and not surprising differences between Democrats and Republicans. While Republicans under age 30 are more aligned with the national trend, with two-thirds wanting clean energy prioritized, overall 58 percent of Republicans favor more exploration of coal, oil, and gas. In contrast, nine in 10 Democrats and Dem-leaning Independents want development of alternative energy sources prioritized.

To do this, we need the Inflation Reduction Act and its funding to stand and not be siphoned off by a fractured and increasingly troubled House majority. We need other measures as well. The Inflation Reduction Act created many incentives for development of clean energy and has led to a boom in big renewable projects. We need to upgrade and expand regional transmission grids to get all that cheap, clean power from site source to everywhere it’s needed.

One big step in that direction is the recently introduced Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (BIG WIRES) Act. This law will require that each region of the country increase the amount of electricity it’s able to exchange with neighboring regions, with new connections and better, more efficient wires.

Electrical utilities and transmission developers (not the government or taxpayers) would pay for these upgrades. But while bearing the costs, they would also benefit from importing cheaper clean electricity from their neighbors, and would therefore need fewer new local power plants and other infrastructure.

Regions that would build and sell solar and wind power to their neighbors would benefit from the revenue and the jobs created (Citizens Climate Education February 2024). According to a 2024 MIT study, the cost and benefits of these projects would have the net effect of saving the country between $330 million and $2.5 billion per year.

Even more encouraging, the report estimated that connecting all of that new solar and wind power to the grid would reduce our climate pollution by about 73 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. That’s not bad for a single bill that climate advocates hope will be part of a larger comprehensive permitting reform package to speed up our clean energy transformation.

The authors at MIT also noted that if this law had been enacted when Winter Storm Elliott hit in 2022, eastern states would have experienced 58 percent fewer power blackouts. In short, the BIG WIRES Act would lower carbon pollution, energy costs, and outages—a win-win-win!

During his administration, Biden’s predecessor did nothing to promote clean energy, and indeed rolled back over 100 Obama era environmental protections, 30 of which impact carbon pollution. If allowed to stand, or in the absence of the new legislation, these rollbacks risk adding 1.8 gigatons of CO2 equivalent cumulatively to the atmosphere by 2035 (New York Times September 2020). That’s to say nothing of the economic drag of carbon pollution—the cost of environmental disasters, poor health outcomes, premature death, and lost productivity.

It is also worth noting that the Inflation Reduction Act—this job-creating, economy-boosting, planet friendly bill—was passed in the Senate and House with zero Republican votes. This despite the fact that the bill has strong support (68 percent) among voters (Yale Climate Communication Program, August 2023).

Who are the Republicans representing? Perhaps the wealthy and powerful oil and gas lobbies? The same fossil fuel companies that sow doubt and misinformation about global warming, though they’ve known the truth for decades? The same companies that are heavily subsidized to keep prices low and production high? The same companies whose executives and shareholders watch their profits swell as their products continue to damage the planet?

Our air, land and water—our sources of life—need champions, not pillagers. We need people in power who will move us forward to a strong clean energy economy, not roll us back.

Remember this as November draws near.

Cathye Williams is a local climate activist. She writes from the northern corner of Manistee County.

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