Hurricane season began this week with a grim reminder to anyone concerned about the national debt or America’s economy: Our changing climate is no longer just an environmental, health or social issue. It’s also now a serious economic issue.
In the past five years alone, climate-related disasters caused more than $612 billion worth of damage to our economy, according to NOAA. Record wildfires in the West. Record flooding in our nation’s heartland. An unprecedented Texas freeze caused billions in damage that Texans will be paying for over the next 30 years. And so many hurricanes in the East that meteorologists ran out of names for them.
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that once something becomes a pocketbook issue, lawmakers start to act. The clean energy investments passed by the last Congress will help reduce carbon emissions that are turbocharging extreme weather and sucking dollars out of taxpayers’ pockets with every disaster
But even before we start seeing those payoffs, these same policies are driving private-industry investments at levels not seen in generations – if ever.
In just nine months since Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), companies announced nearly 200 major clean energy projects – electric vehicle and battery factories; green hydrogen refineries; solar and wind farms, new power lines and energy efficiency projects, according to tracking by the nonpartisan business group E2, which I run. Together, these projects include $80 billion in investments and more than 60,000 good-paying jobs.
The only thing that can stop this new American economic boom?
It’s not hurricanes or wildfires or freezes or flooding.
Fortunately, House Republican leadership in Washington smartly pulled back its misguided threats to repeal the IRA or force the country to default on its financial obligations as part of the deal on the debt ceiling. And in Texas -- now the nation’s leader in renewable energy -- the most radical attempts by Republicans to stop renewable energy just failed after saner heads prevailed.
Certainly, Republicans don’t really want to kill all this economic growth and take away the new career opportunities coming to young people and other constituents back home.
The only reason GOP leaders let this happen in the first place is because the more extreme members of their party are demanding it, just to score political points against the Democrats.
We should’ve never gambled with economic growth and America’s competitiveness just to score political points. And we should never allow it to happen again.
Doing so threatens to pull the rug out from under companies like Ford, GM, Berkshire Hathaway, First Solar and many others that are expanding operations to meet the expected demand in clean energy and electric vehicles being turbocharged by the IRA before they can even get started.
It would trip up America in the global race for a $23 trillion global clean energy market. It would give China, Europe and other international competitors yet another leg up in a competition in which we’re already lagging behind. And it would set us back again in our efforts to reduce the economic impacts of climate change.
Here’s the craziest part: Congressional Republicans attempts to roll back federal climate and clean energy investments would’ve hurt Republicans back home the most.
The majority of clean energy and transportation projects announced since the passage of the IRA have been in red states.
South Carolina leads the way so far, with at least 16 major projects, followed by Georgia with 14 and states including Texas and Tennessee not far behind, according to E2’s research.
Volkswagen plans to revive production of the iconic Scout SUV and truck at a factory in the South Carolina district of Rep. Joe Wilson.
The biggest solar panel factory in the Western hemisphere is being built by Qcells in the Georgia district of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green.
One of the nation’s biggest green hydrogen projects is happening in Utah, the home state of Conservative Climate Caucus Chairman Rep. John Curtis.
One of the biggest carbon removal projects is planned in the solar-heavy California district represented by none other than Speaker McCarthy.
Republican governors, mayors and business leaders who are outside of D.C.’s political bubble are embracing these investments and jobs and celebrating the fact that these investments are turning the tide and bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. More rational Republicans in Congress need to join them.
They need to remember constituents back home care less about political bickering and more about jobs, the economy, American competitiveness and preventing the next costly disaster.
They need to denounce short-sighted political attacks on clean energy policies that are working, and reject future attempts to repeal and weaken then.
They need to put the economy and opportunities for their states above Washington politics.
Hurricane season reminds us there’s no time to waste.
We need to keep moving the country forward together, not just bicker and play political games until the next costly disaster strikes.