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Atmospheric scientist explains climate spending in the Inflation Reduction Act

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, gives the thumbs up as he leaves the Senate Chamber after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, gives the thumbs up as he leaves the Senate Chamber after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is a roughly $700 billion package whose goal is address inflation through lowering energy and health care costs and helping to bring down the federal deficit.

It also has become the focus of some climate and environmental groups, due to hundreds of billions in spending that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide more incentives to invest in clean energy.

Dr. Don Wuebbels, an atmospheric scientist, professor emeritus, at the University of Illinois and former White House expert on climate science, said the bill is intended as a step toward transitioning the country to renewable energy.

“Using incentives, getting people to use more solar, wind power, other forms of energy, developing better battery systems so that we can transition vehicles away from burning gasoline, all those kinds of things can really make a difference,” said Wuebbels. “But sometimes people need a shove in order to really get things going. So that's what this is about.”

He said incentives like these have been effective before, citing his time at the White House under the Obama administration working with companies to commit to fighting climate change. He also saids that companies he talks with now are receptive to the same ideas.

“Helping them to adapt, helping them to sort out how they’re going to deal with their future is in their own interest,” he said.

Some critics of the bill have pointed toward continued and expanded leasing for natural gas and oil projects as a major flaw. There also are parts of the bill that raise royalties on those leases and add stricter penalties for gas leaks. Wuebbels said these compromises aren’t uncommon in climate legislation.

“There's always these compromises that are made in Congress, we all know that the work of Congress in making things happen is like making sausage, it's pretty ugly,” he said. “So some of these things get agreed upon, if you were in the ideal world, you would never choose. And I think that is certainly one of them. You know, I certainly don't want to see more oil and gas and whatever coming out of US property. In fact, we should be eliminating all those things, you know, we should be moving as rapidly as away from the use of fossil fuels as we can.”

He did acknowledge that fossil fuel provisions like these provide a safety net for poor and middle class Americans who can’t yet afford to transition to renewable energy sources.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 passed the Senate along party lines on Sunday, and is expected to be up for a vote in the House on Friday.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.