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YSE Experts React to Major Federal Climate, Energy Investment

From clean electricity investment credit to environmental justice to funding for coastal ecosystem restoration, YSE faculty offer insight into how the Inflation Reduction Act may help us meet urgent environmental challenges — and where there’s still work to be done. 

The Inflation Reduction Act marks the largest ever U.S. investment in climate action — $369 billion in climate and energy provisions, including nearly $280 billion in clean energy tax incentives. The sweeping legislation — which also includes measures aimed at corporate tax rates and health care expansion — addresses numerous environmental issues, including clean energy expansion in transportation, infrastructure, and manufacturing; environmental justice; conservation of forests and coastlines; and curbing carbon emissions.

“The boldest climate package in U.S. history will kick start the era of affordable clean energy in America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was joined in negotiations by Adrian Deveny ’09 MEM, his director of energy and environmental policy. 

But while faculty experts from the Yale School of the Environment applaud the major investment in the environment from the federal government, some believe there is additional work that must be done to create a more sustainable future for the country.
 

The Inflation Reduction Act takes serious strides towards encouraging the shift to cleaner energy. It has provisions to encourage building electrification and installation of renewable energy, most notably extensions and increases of tax credits for solar energy, battery storage, and energy efficiency."

Ken GillinghamProfessor of Environmental & Energy Economics

 

Agriculture and Conservation: Forest conservation and restoration, wildfire mitigation, stewardship and grant funding for farmers, and drought response 

Mark Ashton - Senior Associate Dean of The Forest School and Morris K. Jesup Professor of Silviculture and Forest Ecology 

“Money allocated to agriculture and natural resource conservation is a step in the right direction under the guise of increasing ‘resilience.’ Much of this money is being spent on existing conservation programs designed to help landowners: 1. conserve forests and avoid development; 2. promote better management; and 3. restore various lands, including those in agriculture and along waterways and coastlines vulnerable to flooding and erosion. Some money is also specifically geared toward western forests to facilitate reforestation after fires and to decrease proneness to fires in existing forests by removing ladder fuels. Though all of these programs have great potential, it will ultimately be how the money is spent and programs are implemented that counts.” 
 

Clean Energy: Tax incentives for renewable energy, electric vehicles, residential energy usage, and energy-intensive manufacturing 

Ken Gillingham - Professor of Environmental & Energy Economics 

“The Inflation Reduction Act takes serious strides towards encouraging the shift to cleaner energy. It has provisions to encourage building electrification and installation of renewable energy, most notably extensions and increases of tax credits for solar energy, battery storage, and energy efficiency. There are also tax credits for electric vehicles — but with domestic-sourcing requirements and income thresholds, they are likely to do little to expedite the adoption of electric vehicles in the short run as it appears that few, if any, of the electric vehicle offerings today will qualify.  

 “However, there are also a set of tax credits intended to increase domestic supply of clean energy, including for the manufacturing of electric vehicles, renewable energy, and batteries. These will be unlikely to fully dislodge China as the primary producer of this equipment, but may help with diversifying the manufacturing base, improving national security. These manufacturing tax credits may create some domestic jobs, but are unlikely to dramatically change the path of adoption of clean energy. While the clean energy-related provisions are a positive step forward, there is still much more needed to address climate change — ideally, a price on carbon.” 
 

Environmental Justice: Clean energy fund, climate pollution reduction grants, environmental and climate justice block grants, air pollution reduction investments 

Gerald Torres - Professor of Environmental Justice 

“Environmental justice advocates remain concerned about provisions in the bill that provide incentives for a range of industrial and energy operations that disproportionately impact the environmental justice community. The continued existence of using these communities as sacrifice zones is disheartening. We need to be vigilant. Similarly, the impact on native lands is apparent.  

“That said, the bill creates opportunities for these communities to share in the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy investment. As much as $60 billion in clean energy investments is targeted for low-income communities and people of color. The investments and efficiency stimulated by this will contribute to the climate resilience in these communities and will also address air pollution monitoring and money for electric loading equipment in ports and low-emission school buses and trucks. All of this can redound to the benefit of historically hard-hit communities.” 
 

The continued existence of using [communities of color and lower-income] communities as sacrifice zones is disheartening. We need to be vigilant ... That said, the bill creates opportunities for these communities to share in the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy investment."

Gerald TorresProfessor of Environmental Justice

 

Ecosystem management: Coastal resilience grants, federal forest restoration investments, non-federal forest conservation grants, public lands conservation 

Shimon Anisfeld - Senior Lecturer and Research Scientist in Water Resources and Environmental Chemistry 

“Funding for coastal climate resilience is an important and valuable part of the legislation, since coastal ecosystems and communities are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise and storms. Conserving and restoring coastal ecosystems will bring multiple benefits: sequestering carbon, providing valuable habitat, and serving as natural protection against storm surges and waves. 

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“One concern in the side agreement between Manchin and Schumer is a provision to narrow the scope of state and tribal water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 has been used in the past to prevent damaging projects that would have dried up rivers, and any new legislation that would limit its use to purely ‘water quality’ issues, narrowly defined, would be troubling.” 

Luke Sanford - Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy and Governance  

“The legislation could be pivotal for how we manage and protect forests in a changing climate. It provides funding for knowledge dissemination and more intensive management of public and privately owned forests. Two goals stand out: reducing wildfire risk and managing forests for the ecosystem services they provide, especially carbon sequestration.   

“Wetlands are a nexus of important environmental issues: They sequester carbon, provide habitat, improve water quality, and help mitigate the effects of sea-level rise. The IRA’s investment in coastal and marine habitats will simultaneously fight both climate change and environmental destruction, as well as provide economic opportunities through increased tourism and restoration work.” 
 

Wildlife ecology and conservation, species biodiversity: Endangered species recovery plans and addressing climate change impacts on key habitats 

Os Schmitz - Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology 

 “The funding signifies that the government is taking responsibility for restoring and protecting species and habitats within their wildlife refuges and wildlife management areas. The funding by itself is rather modest, given the scale of human impacts on wildlife habitats. However, the IRA is making substantial investments in stopping pollution and climate change and, thereby, also benefiting wildlife and habitats by reducing key root causes of threats to species and their habitats.” 

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