Will the Inflation Reduction Act Meet Environmental Justice Goals?
On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law. This act makes provisions for healthcare, job opportunities, and climate and energy security. The law contains clean energy infrastructure for transportation, housing, solar, and wind facilities, prioritizing low-income and environmental justice communities. Through the IRA, around $60 billion will be allocated toward environmental justice communities and low-income communities with investments made towards infrastructure and improved funding.
The Biden administration has been forward in its response to meeting demands of climate and clean energy transition. Early on, the administration demonstrated its commitment to mitigating climate impacts and consideration to environmental justice by issuing Executive Order 14008 titled Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. While that order quickly set the pace in putting climate and environmental justice discourse forefront, the recent Inflation Reduction Act builds on previous efforts including climate bills, Build Back Better Act (BBBA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) (IIJA), placing the nation at an advantageous position to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach climate targets in the near decade.
The IRA provides an opportunity to establish clean energy infrastructure in low-income and environmental justice communities. Such infrastructure can provide energy credit for solar and wind facilities situated in the communities, thus ensuring increased clean energy deployment and economic benefit to those overburdened and disadvantaged communities. The dividends for environmental and climate justice were expanded to include grants and financial incentives provided through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Transport (DOT), Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a few other federal agencies. This will provide federal intervention that reaches environmental justice communities, low-income communities, and tribal communities to reduce pollution and environmental injustice across the country.
The Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for pollution monitoring equipment and cleanups needed to address environmental injustice—a key provision for which Acadia Center advocated as a companion policy to the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). While the law is particularly aimed to provide infrastructure on clean technologies that get situated in already disadvantaged communities, it is essential that implementation of these programs, grants, and financial incentives are administered with clarity through a transparent approach that is led by the voices and participation of communities across the country.
Though the Inflation Reduction Act may be the biggest and most ambitious climate legislation enacted to provide climate solutions and support low-income communities, environmental justice communities, and tribal communities, continued climate leadership and stewardship is needed for climate solutions and environmental justice. The White House Interagency on Environmental Justice and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, both created through Executive Order 14008, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), are examples of equity and environmental justice stewardship at the federal level. With more state and municipality-level engagement from communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities, equity and environmental justice in climate action becomes foreseeable.
For more information:
Joy Yakie, Manager, Environmental Justice and Outreach, email@example.com, 617-742-0054 x110
The Inflation Reduction Act Makes Climate Change History
The Inflation Reduction Act has passed in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and has been signed into law by President Joe Biden. Alongside desperately needed funding for healthcare, this bill is the first major clean energy investment ever passed in the U.S. The IRA will invest $386 billion dollars into climate related initiatives. Prior to the adoption of the IRA, the U.S. was estimated to be on track to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25% below 2005 levels by 2030. With the IRA, 2030 emissions are estimated to be about 40% below 2005 levels – demonstrating the magnitude of the bill in reducing emissions. The figure below demonstrates how U.S. “business as usual” (BAU) GHG emissions without the IRA compared to the “low,” “moderate,” and “high” emissions scenario trajectories associated with the IRA.
According to analysis conducted by Energy Innovation, the IRA also has the potential to deliver significant public health and economic benefits, preventing up to 4,500 premature deaths in 2030 and creating up to 1.3 million jobs in 2030. Let us break down where the $386 billion in the bill is going:
- $161 billion for clean electricity tax credits
- $40 billion for air pollution, hazardous materials, transportation, and infrastructure
- $37 billion for individual clean energy incentives
- $37 billion for clean manufacturing tax credits
- $36 billion for clean fuel and vehicle tax credits
- $35 billion for conservation, rural development, and forestry
- $27 billion in building efficiency, electrification, transmission, industrial, DOE, grants, and loans
- $14 billion in other energy and climate spending
The total cost of the bill, including the healthcare components, comes out to $485 billion spent over the next ten years. However, the investment is predicted to bring in roughly $790 billion in that same period, meaning this bill is projected to have a net profit of $305 billion over the next decade. That profit will go towards reducing the deficit and controlling inflation.
The IRA represents the most significant federal action to fight climate change in our nation’s history, taking specific steps to address greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, transportation, and power generation. Here are how the investments align with Acadia Center’s longstanding mission to “Advance the Clean Energy Future” throughout the Northeast.
First and foremost, the IRA offers significant federal resources to advance a package of actions Acadia Center calls “Next Generation Energy Efficiency.” Acadia Center has been working throughout the northeast to urge utility companies and regulators to prioritize making our region’s homes and businesses more thermally comfortable and energy efficient through simple actions like better insulation and air sealing of building envelopes as well as replacing inefficient fossil fuel appliances like furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and cooktops with superior all-electric appliances. The combination of these steps significantly reduces the overall amount of fossil fuels used in these buildings, reduces energy bills, and improves overall quality of life by making our living and working spaces healthier, safer, and more versatile.
By focusing these coordinated activities on especially high emitting buildings in our region, we can amplify these multi-faceted benefits even further. For instance, in the residential sector, the leakiest 25% of housing units in New England produce more than half of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to housing. Statistically, these households are far more likely to be low-income and occupied by renters. Nearly all (96%) of high emitting housing units are heated by fossil fuels, which are several times less energy efficient than all-electric heat pumps. Tens of billions for investments in building retrofits and energy efficiency will yield a significant reduction in local air pollution and global greenhouse gas emissions.
What it means for you:
The IRA introduces a slew of new tax credits and upfront discounts for clean building technologies for both homeowners and renters alike. All homeowners, regardless of income, will have access to tax credits to support the purchase and installation technologies including geothermal heat pumps, air source heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and electrical panel upgrades that are sometimes necessary to support the installation of these technologies. As an example, tax credits for heat pumps will be as high as $2,000.
Low-income (defined as less than 80% of median area income) and moderate-income (80%-150% of median area income) homeowners will have access to several upfront discounts for technologies including heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, electric induction stoves, heat pump clothes dryers, electric panel upgrades, and electric wiring upgrades. As an example, upfront discounts for heat pumps will be as high as $8,000. Upfront discounts for moderate-income households will cover up to 50% of the project cost, while discounts for low-income households will cover up to 100% of the project cost. Low-income and moderate-income renters have access to upfront discounts for clean building technologies that could be relocated in the event of a move, including heat pump window units, electric stoves, and heat pump clothes dryers. A combination of tax credits, upfront discounts and performance rebates will also be available to improve the efficiency of homes – ranging from basic weatherization to more comprehensive retrofits.
Additional measures in the IRA will work to address rampant levels of methane leakage occurring throughout the country related to the production of “fossil gas” also known as “natural gas.” This gas is primarily methane, which has a global warming potential of over 80 times that of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Leaking methane is also a significant safety hazard as leaks in the distribution pipes and inside of households are responsible for fires and sudden catastrophic explosions. Specifically, the IRA calls for the implementation of a “methane emissions charge” for oil and natural gas production facilities that are not in compliance with EPA methane emissions regulations.
Acadia Center’s Beyond Gas initiative works to reduce the combustion and leaking of methane by transitioning both power generation and buildings away from today’s overreliance on fossil gas and by prioritizing the strategic repair of leaking pipe sections that are not immediately ready for decommissioning.
Acadia Center has long worked on a multi-pronged Clean Transportation strategy to reduce tailpipe emissions through electrification of vehicles, expanding transit access and improving networks, and connecting communities through investments in safe, dedicated pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The IRA falls short of taking significant actions to modernize transit and personal mobility infrastructure networks, but does prioritize historic measures to accelerate vehicle electrification, ranging from personal vehicles to heavy-duty vehicles like buses and garbage trucks.
What it means for you:
The IRA includes a first-ever $4,000 consumer tax credit for lower/middle income individuals to buy used electric vehicles and up to $7,500 in tax credits to buy new electric vehicles—these programs will effectively extend and expand the current federal electric vehicle incentives that have started to expire under existing law. The tax credits for new vehicles are available to those with an adjusted gross income (AGI) below $150,000 (filing taxes as single) or $300,000 (filing taxes jointly), while the tax credits for used vehicles are available to those with an AGI below $75,000 (filing taxes as single) or $150,000 (filing taxes jointly). Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which use both electricity and gas, will still qualify for the tax credit if they have a battery of at least 7 kWh in size, a threshold that nearly all models meet.
However, the EV tax credits will not necessarily be easy to navigate for consumers in the short term. To be eligible for the full tax credit, vehicles must both be 1) Assembled in North America and 2) Source the critical minerals need to make the batteries from a U.S. free trade partner. This policy has created some near-term uncertainty for which specific makes and models will qualify. For example, Hyundai and Kia do not currently produce any EVs in North America despite having several EVs available to U.S. consumers. For those seeking more information, electrek is maintaining a detailed list of which vehicles do and do not qualify for the tax incentive under these new requirements.
The law also includes tax credits and grants for clean fuels and clean commercial vehicles to reduce emissions and $3 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to purchase zero-emission vehicles to replace its aging fleet of vehicles that travel throughout our communities every day.
Additionally, the IRA provides $3 billion in Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants that can support neighborhood equity, safety, and affordable transportation access via competitive grants to reconnect communities long divided by redlining practices that developed transportation infrastructure in a manner that intentionally split apart neighborhoods, many of which were primarily inhabited by people of color. These grants can also be used to mitigate the negative impacts of transportation facilities on disadvantaged or underserved communities, as well as to support equitable transportation planning and community engagement activities that should be at the heart of all community-led decision-making processes.
The IRA also provides $3 billion in grants to reduce air pollution at ports, including for the purchase and installation of zero-emission equipment and technology. This will reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned by idling ships and local port machinery and trucking operations. These strategic investments to reduce the amount of heavy-duty vehicle and machinery emissions directly aligns with work Acadia Center has led in the past to address particulate matter emissions generated by diesel engines in overburdened and underserved communities, particularly school buses which expose communities and school children directly to health impacts from poor air quality.
To sustainably power today’s economy and support the transition from fossil fuel burning appliances and vehicles, the IRA makes critical investments to accelerate the expansion of responsibly sited renewable energy resources, including in rural communities. About two thirds of the estimated greenhouse gas emission reductions resulting from the IRA in 2030 are expected to come from the electricity sector. Two of the key provisions driving this reduction are the 10-year extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which have been critical financial carrots driving the rapid deployment of wind and solar. Solar projects will be able to access the PTC for the first time and battery storage, which is critical for accessing the full benefits of renewable electricity, will have access to the ITC for the first time. Combined, the extension and expansion of these tax credits, along with other clean energy provisions in the IRA, will be critical in continuing to drive down the costs of renewable electricity and accelerating the shift away from fossil fuel electricity generation in favor of renewable electricity generation in the northeast.
What it means for you:
The IRA provides a 30% tax credit to all homeowners, regardless of income, to support the purchase and installation of residential rooftop solar and/or battery storage. Both tax credits are in effect for the next 10 years. The battery storage tax credit is brand new, and the solar tax credit represents a long-term extension of the existing solar tax credit that was previously set to decrease and fade away over the next couple of years.
However, these projected declines in electricity sector emissions will not be realized without addressing existing policy barriers hampering the deployment of cheap renewable energy. The challenges currently facing the construction of transmission lines and the interconnection of renewable electricity to the grid continue to persist. That is why Acadia Center remains focused on tackling these complex and technical issues that arise in the transition to a clean energy future.
Acadia Center’s Clean Power and Utility Innovation programs have tirelessly worked to push regulators and the incumbent fossil fuel-utility industrial complex to update business models to prioritize investments in clean energy and dynamic energy systems that provide greater economic and societal benefits to end users. The IRA buttresses that work by incentivizing investments to develop and deploy historic levels of clean energy and to provide support for more robust local participation in permitting and regulatory processes that are key to developing those resources responsibly and with community input.
The IRA also includes more than $20 billion to support climate-smart agriculture practices. Acadia Center partnered with the American Farmland Trust and other organizations to develop the Smart Solar Siting Project for New England that seeks to co-locate renewable energy resources on parcels that also host agricultural activities—a winning strategy that keeps the Northeast’s precious farmland in agricultural use and provides farmers a source of clean, renewable energy and diversified revenue stream to maintain their farm operations for generations to come.
Overall, the IRA represents a great step forward in U.S. climate policy but there is still much work to be done – much of which will need to occur at the state and local levels – to actualize the full potential of the IRA. Acadia Center’s work across its core initiatives will be crucial in ensuring that the IRA delivers the maximum amount of emissions, economic, health and equity benefits to northeastern states.
 While the IRA itself may fall short on transit and personal mobility network investments, other large federal legislation of the past few years, such as the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, have provided some direction to those priorities.
Woe is T
Power problems on the Green and Blue Lines.
A driver shortage on the bus lines causing headaches.
And a commuter rail system subject to occasional shutdowns in both directions.
Residents of Massachusetts have become frustrated with a public transit system plagued by disruptions and uncertainty. Transportation that many rely upon for daily life has become one that cannot be trusted to safely get you where you need to go when you need to. While the MBTA has struggled with issues for quite some time, a question remains: how did it get this bad so quickly? Harder yet, how do we fix it? And, in the meantime, what does it mean for our air quality as more and more commuters abandon transit and pile into individual vehicles? Our fight against climate does not work unless our transit system does as well. Our political leaders in Massachusetts cannot claim to be fighting for climate as our public transit system struggles.
In April, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a safety inspection of the MBTA, and in June they ordered several immediate safety fixes. Unfortunately, as a result of the frequent safety problems and disruptions, the Federal Transit Administration announced an “immediate safety standdown” in July, requiring workers to attend a special safety briefing. This announcement led to the complete shutdown of the Orange Line for immediate emergency repairs, with rumors of a complete takeover of the system circulating.
In August, the FTA issued its Safety Management Inspection report, a scathing report that highlighted chronic deficiencies. While the MBTA managed to avoid a complete takeover by the FTA, the FTA identified several crucial areas in which the agency has been mismanaged over the years. Some of these 24-identified findings included:
- Chronic understaffing at the agency
- Underprioritized safety management information
- Prioritization of the capital budget at the expense of the operations and maintenance budget
- Deficient oversight from the Department of Public Utilities
The FTA then ordered fixes to these problems immediately. The issuance of this report also led to the announcement of an oversight hearing by the legislature, to conduct their own investigation.
The report from the FTA highlights what transit advocates have long known: public transit in Massachusetts has been given the short shrift over the years, resulting in a system that is underinvested in, unreliable, and unsafe. However, the system does not have to remain that way. Unfortunately, while many may look to federal grants for a solution, the Federal Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did not meaningfully address public transit, making our state leaders’ action even more important. The state legislature, incoming and current executive branch, advocates, and the general public need to come together to find a sustainable funding mechanism that does not heavily rely upon fares and promotes long-term growth, safety, and reliability. Parallel to this funding work, decisionmakers should work to advance other policies, such as fare-free ridership for low-income individuals, and other ways to grow ridership and restore trust in the system. Additionally, beyond public transit, decisionmakers need to embrace mobility shifting and enhance better opportunities for biking and walkable communities. The answers to these ongoing issues are not magic, but they do require dedication, vision, and ingenuity from our elected officials.
For more information:
Kyle Murray, Senior Policy Advocate-Massachusetts, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-742-0054, ext. 106
Advancing DEIJ through Partnerships
Acadia Center recently became a founding member of Browning the Green Space (BGS), a membership-based non-profit organization seeking to advance diversity and inclusion in the clean energy industry. BGS, founded by Kerry Bowie who currently serves as the Executive Director of the organization, was borne out of the overwhelming need to diversify the climate and clean energy workforce with voices that are often excluded in climate solutions while making efforts to promote the inclusion of communities that suffer the impact of climate change.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are underrepresented in the clean energy sector and in the decision-making process for climate solutions. Communities of color and low-income communities have continually shouldered unequal environmental pollution and harm and, as climate change impact intensifies, these communities in addition to other frontline communities will suffer extreme climate-related events associated with climate change. BGS understands the implications of the climate impacts on frontline communities and the need to ensure that their lived experiences not only form solutions for the future but that they are also included in the workforce and rewarded for their contributions.
Acadia Center supports the mission and vision of Browning the Green Space. Across our initiatives and programs, we consistently observe that increased participation of minority voices can produce better outcomes for people and communities. While working to ensure our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice values are prioritized, we hope that through BGS and other coalition opportunities, we can collaborate on best practices and resources that push the vision of an equitable, climate-safe future for all communities.
Acadia Center Summer Internships
Acadia Center is pleased to have provided three internship opportunities this summer. The work of these exceptional students has proven beneficial to their learning and to our organization as a whole. We are grateful for their time and talent.
Sarah Smith is a rising junior at Brown University studying political science. She is from Yarmouth, Maine and, as a Mainer, has a deep personal connection to and investment in the New England environment. Sarah has been researching the potential of mass timber as a substitute for concrete and steel in construction, and the subsequent environmental benefits. Using engineered wood in place of conventional construction materials can decrease the embodied carbon of the building as well as sequester carbon from the harvested trees. There are several high-rise mass timber projects in the works in the United States, and many more globally. Sarah has been distilling existing research and compiling next steps into a memo for the Acadia Center to have as a future resource.
Joseph Wapelhorst is a second-year law student at Georgetown University Law Center, where he is a member of the Journal of Law and Public Policy. As a legal intern at the Acadia Center, he has supported senior regulatory attorneys by conducting research on the Supreme Court’s recent changes to the EPA and federal administrative state’s authority as well as the power of New England states to phase out gas utilities. His work has focused on whether New England states possess the authority to shift away from gas utilities to more renewable energy sources, their obligations to serve their citizens in doing so, and the cost allocation methods that would be used in such efforts.
Meenakshi Jani is a rising senior at Amherst College, where she is majoring in environmental studies and history. At Amherst, she has been involved in organizations such as the Environmental Justice Alliance, where she helped to lead the campaign for divesting the college’s endowment from fossil fuels and the prison-industrial complex. As a DEIJ/legislative intern at Acadia Center, she has been researching transportation advocacy in the region. Specifically, she has been analyzing the story of the Transportation and Climate Initiative and its implications for future clean transportation advocacy in the Northeast. She has also been reading the transportation policy proposals of organizations in and beyond the Northeast, such as in the Midwest, West Coast, Canada, and the EU, to examine how those can be incorporated into Acadia Center’s clean energy advocacy. In addition, she is compiling a database of environmental advocacy organizations in the region.
West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency
Last week, the Supreme Court decided a case that will have substantial impact on how greenhouse gas emissions and other public safety issues are regulated at the federal level. The case, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, – US –, (2022), struck down a regulation that was never implemented and therefore does not immediately change any current EPA program to regulate climate change. However, the Court’s reliance for the first time on a new doctrine called the Major Questions Doctrine has potential to significantly impact future agency decisions where Congress has not explicitly outlined how to regulate – making it harder for EPA, and all other federal agencies, to advance their missions. In light of this decision, it is even more crucial for states, regions and communities to respond to the climate crisis and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Striking Down CPP’s Methods
The decision struck down the Clean Power Plan (CPP)’s approach restrict greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing movement to clean energy but did not strike the goals of the CPP itself. The CPP is a 2015 Obama Administration approach to reduce climate pollution from the nation’s powerplants. The court ruled that the EPA was not authorized by the Clean Air Act (CAA) to make such a major change to the nationwide grid. To make such a major policy decision, an agency like the EPA would need clear Congressional authorization, which the Court found Congress did not provide.
Historically, the EPA utilized the power given to it by Congress to regulate individual powerplant site emissions through pollution standards set by the agency. The Court found that the CPP was different because it marked a shift from using the EPA’s authority to require individual generators to reduce emissions to a program changing all generators’ methods for producing energy – namely, limiting their use of coal. While the EPA may have been right that climate change required more drastic action than requiring emission efficiency from “dirty” generators, the court found that Congress had not explicitly given the EPA the authority to make that decision.
This does present an obstacle to the goal the CPP was trying to achieve since the EPA now needs further authorization from Congress to take such a broad step. States, however, are not blocked from taking up the torch. Additionally, since the CPP never went into effect, the Biden administration may still craft a plan which takes more aggressive steps to curtail emissions while acting within the traditionally understood authority of the EPA, as defined by the Supreme Court. It would be a delicate balance, but the court’s opinion hints that the answer would lie in traditional regulation of individual sources rather than the restructuring of the national grid’s generators.
Major Questions Doctrine
The Court elevates a relatively new doctrine, previously cited only in one case’s dissent, to form the heart of its decision. See Gundy v. U.S., 139 S. Ct. 2116 (2019) (dissent)
This major questions doctrine (MQD) is a new way of approaching the Non-Delegation Doctrine (NDD). NDD is the principle that Congress may not delegate its legislative power to administrative agencies without violating the separation of powers in the Constitution. For almost a century, when Congress delegated its legislative power, it had to provide an “intelligible principle” to guide the agency’s exercise of discretion. See Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935), In other words, Congress could only delegate if it made clear “the general policy” and the “boundaries of authority.”
But starting in the late 20th Century, the Court applied a standard that was very deferential to the agencies’ own interpretation of whether Congress supplied the “intelligible principle” required. This is popularly known as Chevron deference, named for the case in which the court first made clear this deferential standard that allowed agencies to interpret statutes they administer. See Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat. Resources Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Since broad delegations were necessary in the complex world of administrative agencies, and the judiciary is ill equipped to draw meaningful lines, the agency’s expertise usually won the day.
The MQD turns Chevron deference on its head. As a matter of interpretation, if Congress gives an agency responsibility or “powers of vast executive and political significance” they must be explicit on intent to delegate that authority and what the delegation entails or else the court will read it as not delegating. In other words, the more politically significant the issue is, the more likely the Court is to require an explicit statement from Congress. The MQD was first discussed in a dissent by Justice Gorsuch (and two others) in 2019 as a way to more strictly restrain the administrative agencies. It now has been adopted by the majority for the first time in West Virginia v. EPA.
A shift to the MQD to resolve cases involving agency regulation would bind agencies’ hands and require explicit Congressional approval for them to act. This would slow down the agency’s work and make the executive agencies more dependent on the legislative majority rather than the White House. This is especially troublesome for an EPA looking to take big steps to combat climate change since they would need more explicit authority to take measures that are not outlined in the statutes that give the EPA its power. It is not impossible to pursue progressive policies, but it will make the process more difficult.
The Importance of States and Regions
With federal agencies’ powers potentially curtailed, actions at the state and regional level are even more important. Thankfully, organizations like Acadia Center that focus on state, regional and local action are on the job.
One example of a successful regional effort to reduce GHG emissions is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Acadia Center was actively involved in its beginnings back in 2008 and 2009. In 2022, RGGI is predicted to deliver around $1B in allowance revenues for the eleven member states (including all of New England and New York). Because much of this money is invested in clean energy and energy efficiency within the member states, it returns significant economic and environmental benefits and CO2 reductions within the states. RGGI Inc. released a report in May that estimates that the $196M invested in 2020 will return $1.9B in lifetime energy bill savings and 6.6 million short tons of CO2 emissions avoided.
This fall, RGGI is undergoing the Third RGGI Program Review, and Acadia Center is seizing this opportunity to tailor the program to ensure that the priorities called for by environmental justice communities are fully addressed in the next phase of RGGI. Historically, these communities have faced a disproportionate burden energy system pollution. During the program review, it is essential that each RGGI state critically consider equitable investment in communities that face the worst effects of polluting power plants. This ongoing program review provides a chance for states to consider the recent auctions, history of investments across the states, the need to directly address environmental justice communities, and other mechanisms associated with the cap-and-invest program. Acadia Center remains closely involved in RGGI policy conversations across the RGGI states and will continue to advocate for program reforms that drive equitable investment and climate action.
Maine PUC Has the Tools for Real Utility Reform But Needs Time and Will To Use Them!
Few state agencies have more impact on Mainers’ daily lives than the Public Utilities Commission (Commission). The Commission regulates electric, gas, and water utilities’ rates and services and provides oversight to the state’s utility monopolies, Central Maine Power and Versant Power, who collectively serve more than 795,000 electricity customers over 22,000 square miles from Fort Kent to Kittery. For most of its existence, the Commission was charged with keeping rates low, ensuring reliable supply of electricity, and allowing utilities to earn a profit on their businesses. Recent action authorizes Commissioners to do more.
The 130th Maine Legislature, which wrapped up its two-year session in May 2022, enacted reforms that strengthen the Commission’s regulatory hand when it comes to electric utilities. First LD 1682 – An Act To Require Consideration of Climate Impacts by the Public Utilities Commission and To Incorporate Equity Considerations in Decision Making by State Agencies empowers the agency to make decisions that prioritize greenhouse gas emission reductions as part of its primary mission, in addition to affordability, reliability, and utility profit. Second, LD 1959 – An Act Regarding Utility Accountability and Grid Planning for Maine’s Clean Energy Future, strengthens the agency’s ability to hold utilities accountable for their performance and impacts on ratepayers. LD 1959 also requires the Commission to initiate comprehensive, integrated grid planning with robust stakeholder input, review, and transparency. A third law, LD 2018 An Act to Implement Recommendations Regarding the Incorporation of Equity Considerations in Regulatory Decision Making, opens the door for more inclusive and accessible Commission proceedings for environmental justice and frontline communities. These new laws will hopefully lead Maine to a more reliable, clean, and affordable electricity grid that benefits all Mainers.
Regulatory reforms of this magnitude take time; CMP, however, is wasting no time at all. Before the ink was dry on Governor Janet Mills’ signature on LD 1959, Maine’s largest utility-owned investor announced its intent to file a three-year plan that hikes electricity delivery rates before the Commission can flex its new regulatory muscles around utility reliability and affordability performance metrics, grid planning, and climate and equity considerations. The utility also seeks a 10-10.5 percent return on equity, which determines its expected profitability while passing expenses through to ratepayers. CMP’s preemptive move comes at a time of sky-high electricity rates driven by the Northeast’s dependence on natural gas, volatility in global energy markets, and continuing supply chain issues from the pandemic and war in Ukraine. Governor Mills also wasted no time in criticizing CMP’s move, describing it as “outrageous” and adding “insult to injury” to Maine people, while declaring she will “fight this” by directing her Energy Office to oppose it and urging the Commission to reject it. Acadia Center also condemned the announcement in the Portland Press Herald:
Approving a rate increase before the PUC adopts those new standards for the state’s utilities and starts the grid planning process would be putting the cart before the horse, said Jeff Marks, Maine director and senior policy advocate for the Acadia Center, an organization pushing for policies to protect the environment and transition to clean energy sources. Marks said the new law will require the utilities to meet new standards to ensure they are using customer revenue wisely, and it also calls for a wide-ranging plan to enhance the state’s power grid. Deciding on a rate increase before either measure is in place doesn’t make sense, he said. “These rate hikes show we can’t start too soon,” Marks said. “With this type of rate hike at this point, we need to start the accountability process.” Marks also said that a comprehensive plan to modernize Maine’s electric grid could help keep rates low, and that giving CMP a rate hike to make some changes before the overall plan is even underway would be premature. The new grid plan, along with new accountability measures, “will shine a spotlight” on how well the utilities are providing electric service to Mainers, Marks said, adding that analysis should be done before CMP seeks a rate hike, not after.
Because of the reforms enacted by the Maine Legislature and signed by the Governor, Maine has the opportunity to design a clean, affordable, reliable grid in a cost-effective manner that considers the state’s goals and targets to decarbonize the grid and electrify buildings and transportation and do so in a way that supports equity and minimizes impacts on underserved, overburdened, and vulnerable communities. The Commission will launch the grid planning process later this year with significant stakeholder engagement and outreach. Utilities will have eighteen months to develop and submit plans. Stakeholders again will have the opportunity to weigh in. This integrated grid planning process, along with requirements to consider climate pollution strategies and reductions, could provide hundreds of millions of dollars in ratepayer benefits and savings while appropriately assessing environmental, climate, and equity impacts of electric policies, programs, and projects. This, in turn, will help Maine lead the way in reducing dependence on out-of-state natural gas, fighting climate change, and enabling the grid to make way for cost-effective heat pumps in our living rooms, efficiency improvements in our attics and basements, electric vehicles in our garages and driveways, and the capacity to store excess energy for when we need it most.
Acadia Center is pleased to see that CMP wants to invest in smarter technology, more robust infrastructure, better rate design, and renewable energy interconnection. However, Acadia Center urges restraint on increased utility rates and profits until the Commission, in partnership with utilities and Maine people, evaluates the investments truly needed to benefit Maine people with lower, less volatile long-term rates, cleaner air, a stronger, more reliable grid, and better access to clean energy resources.
Director, Utility Innovation and Reform
Zero Emissions to Mile Zero
Growing up the son of a classic car enthusiast, I would often hear tales and vagaries of the “Great American Road Trip.” I would picture our own family zig-zagging across the country in one of the cars my father restored—a turquoise Ford Thunderbird, a coral Chevy Nomad, or even my personal favorite, his black and red 1958 Edsel with the revolutionary Teletouch automatic transmission. So, it should come as little surprise that in the ensuing decades I have lived out those dreams—driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, exploring family history in Quebec, and meandering through the Great Smoky Mountains. But my latest trip was something I could never have imagined as a young child staring at the Edsel’s unique horse collar grill. Because my latest road trip was…all- electric!
A few years ago, I had the chance to buy a used 2015 Tesla Model S 70 with approximately 236 miles of range for significantly less than even the pre-pandemic prices of most battery electric vehicles (EVs) on the market today. It was an outlier deal then—a “steal” really—and has only improved with age. And because early Tesla models included unlimited complimentary “Supercharging” at the company’s international, proprietary network of fast Level 3 charging stations, I was inspired to start plotting a new generation of road trips. I started with some proving trips around the region—to friends in New Jersey and Maryland; through Mohawk Trail and to the top of Mount Washington; and to a wedding in rural upstate New York. But as the pandemic took its toll, my wanderlust grew exponentially. I soon started planning a longer challenge that would take me to the end of U.S. Route 1 in Key West, Florida.
Lots of people talk about having range anxiety. I quickly eliminated any marginal concerns through my early proving trips. But ahead of this journey, I did have what I will call range “curiosity.” I wondered whether the projected battery range would hold up under actual driving conditions, especially as temperatures and speed limits would increase significantly as I navigated further south. Would the weight of passengers and luggage cut noticeably into efficiency? Would there be enough chargers around to facilitate diversions from the main path? Would the charging stops become more onerous as the trip wore on? And despite over $4.30 per gallon gasoline, would I conclude it would have been more practical to drive a gas-powered vehicle for this trip?
To make a long story short, I continue to find both short and long trips far more pleasant in my electric vehicle than any gas powered vehicle I’ve driven, and I would be very happy to never drive a gas-powered vehicle again.
My first stop was a reunion at my college roommate’s apartment in New Jersey where I plugged into a Level 2 charger overnight. With a full battery, I drove the nearly 200 miles south that morning to rendezvous with a friend at the Hanover, Maryland, Supercharging station—he was carrying out the time-honored tradition of driving his mother’s vehicle back north from Florida for the summer. We grabbed lunch and coffee and soon were back on our respective missions. He recommended a route south which would take me across the Potomac through eastern Maryland and bypass much of the weekend traffic surrounding the Capital Beltway. Thanks to this impromptu diversion, I stumbled onto an antique shop in Port Royal, Virginia, nearly purchasing the stone sasquatch prominently displayed outside—maybe on the way back!
From Port Royal, I made great time through Virginia and the Carolinas and into Georgia, pulling off to explore here and there and eventually stopping for the night at a hotel with its own bank of Superchargers.
Well rested and fully charged, I set my sights on South Florida to pick up family flying in for the week. I finally encountered my first problem of the trip—I was unexpectedly ahead of schedule. I thought I’d hit more traffic…I thought charging stops would take more time…I thought I would need an extra day to comfortably arrive on time in Miami. So, I started researching destinations not on my original itinerary—would there be a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral? Concerts? Sports? As it turns out, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning were hosting a playoff game and outdoor viewing party on the plaza right outside their arena. After a quick check of hotels in the area, I found one within walking distance of the arena that also offered complimentary Level 2 charging—ideal for an overnight stay. So, onto Tampa and what turned out to be a fantastic and lively party complete with music, lawn games, food, and perfect weather!
In the morning, I was back on the road, driving south and then turning east across “Alligator Alley.” About halfway across this long stretch of isolated highway partitioning both the Big Cypress National Reserve and Florida Everglades, I stopped at the Supercharger on the Miccosukee Reservation and watched the sun rise with a couple charging their car to make the reverse trip up to Tampa and eventually back to Michigan. After sidestepping the largest crickets I’ve ever seen, I was back on the road to South Florida where my family would soon land. We spent the night in Miami Beach where the local parking garage had multiple Level 2 chargers to use for a fee.
The next morning, we all piled into the car, cruised slowly south on Ocean Avenue between South Beach on our left and rows of iconic Art Deco buildings on our right, and then continuing onto the Florida Keys.
We stopped at one of our favorite lunch spots in Islamorada which also included a Level 2 charger—we didn’t necessarily need to charge but adding about 30 miles of range while we ate lunch gave us enough of a buffer to confidently make it all the way to Key West. The next morning, I drove to Key West City Hall to use their level 2 charger, retrieving it later in the day with nearly a full charge. For the rest of the stay, I kept the car plugged into an outdoor outlet—nothing fancy, just a standard 120-volt outlet to maintain a full charge. We drove back to New England mostly with the windows down, soaking up all of the heat we could, and stopping at a nearly entirely different set of charging stations along the way.
Next up, the other end of Route 1 in Maine! If I found a sasquatch statute in Virginia—what will I find up there?
Ruminations from the Road
- Drivers still need incentives to make the switch to zero-emissions vehicles and manufacturers need to solve supply chain woes in order to bring down the cost and build-times of all lower-polluting vehicles. Federal and state tax credits and/or rebates, when designed equitably, can help more people afford EVs which typically carry a higher up-front cost offset over time by lower fueling and maintenance costs. Acadia Center has repeatedly supported expanding EV incentives to used vehicles, lowering the sales price cap for EV incentives, and expanding eligibility to E-bikes. This package of reforms help ensure incentives are helping people that need assistance making the transition rather than subsidizing new vehicles for wealthier individuals that likely don’t require the credit or rebate.
- This trip would likely not have been as easy without access to Tesla’s well-developed proprietary network of fast chargers—this is a complaint I have heard from some of my fellow electric vehicle drivers. I could quickly locate chargers along my route using the built-in navigation system and could always access multiple charging destinations without concern. It will be critical to expand EV charging networks to fully unlock the transformative potential of electric vehicles, including personal, commercial, public transit, and medium– and heavy–duty vehicles. Last year’s federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) included funding to expand the nation’s EV charging network and states are in the process of developing their IIJA plans this summer. My trip demonstrated more hotels could benefit from offering and advertising EV charging amenities on highway billboards to attract wandering travelers looking to recharge body, mind, and car overnight.
- I found stopping every few hours to charge quite refreshing. On all of my past gas-powered road trips, there was always self-imposed pressure to fuel up and get back out as quickly as possible. Since my car has older charging technology, my stops would sometimes take about 30 minutes—the perfect amount of time to use the restroom, maybe grab a bite, stretch my legs, check email, and even go for a light jog or walk. At the same time, as batteries and charging technology continue to improve by leaps and bounds, the number of stops and time to “refill” will continue to decrease. In fact, the 2022 version of my vehicle already has nearly double the range and is able to charge at much higher speeds to make the experience more comparable to stopping for gas. All drivers should consider their wellness on any long drive and build in time to take these breaks even if their vehicles don’t require them as much in the future. Maybe I’m also just choosing better priorities as I get older…
- Electric vehicles are clearly not the only component to a clean transportation transition. Along my journey, I saw wonderful pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, United States Postal Service cargo bicycles, scooter and bike shares, dedicated bus lanes and free transit shuttles, water taxis, and more. We need comprehensive approaches to provide clean transportation options for all users.
- While EVs have zero emissions from the tailpipe, there are still associated emissions from electricity generation and of course the initial manufacturing. It is critical we address all of the life cycle and associated emissions by shifting electrical generation to increasingly rely upon renewables like wind, solar, and energy storage. Similarly, the manufacture of all vehicles, including EVs, needs to pivot rapidly to eliminate extractive and abusive practices and much more must be done to mitigate environmental impacts of mining and manufacturing. At the same time, those raising concerns about the manufacture of EVs should do so in good faith and recognize the long-established and ongoing impacts implicit in the extraction and manufacture of fossil fuels and fossil fuel burning vehicles.
- Finally, no Acadia Center story is complete without data! My total round trip was 3,636.5 miles. I used 1,084.9 kilowatt hours (kWh) for an average of 3.35 miles per kWh or, correspondingly, about 298-Watt hours per mile (Wh/mile). In typical driving conditions, my overall consumption is between 225 and 250 Wh/mile, and I can reasonably theorize the decreased efficiency on this trip was due to a few factors, including:
- Higher sustained speeds from southern Virginia through most of Florida due to lower highway congestion and higher posted speed limits;
- Increased use of air conditioning from South Carolina through Florida;
- Combined weight of passengers and luggage that ranged from 500-1000 pounds throughout the trip;
- Driving with the windows down for approximately 1500 miles of the 3,636.5–mile journey;
- Assuming I used a gas-powered hybrid achieving 30 miles per gallon at that week’s East Coast retail average price of $4.33 per gallon, I would have consumed approximately 121 gallons of fuel at a cost of $524. Comparatively, I would have spent approximately $325 on electric charging assuming an average per kWh cost of $0.30—a conservatively higher price for electricity to account for Tesla Supercharging and Blink fees as well as any applicable demand charges or other possible rate structures utilized across the states where I charged. This comparison is illustrative only and admittedly imprecise because of the widespread availability of complimentary electric vehicle charging as a customer amenity.
For more information:
Hank Webster, Rhode Island Director & Senior Policy Advocate, email@example.com, 401.276.0600 ext.402
Seizing the Moment to Push for Climate Action in Massachusetts
On Monday, Acadia Center’s Environmental Justice Associate, Joy Yakie, joined advocates from environmental justice organizations, labor union officials, businesses, and other climate activists to reiterate the urgency of climate action. Yakie emphasized that the state can further climate goals and progress towards a smooth and faster transition to clean energy by implementing climate action plans to make its goals a reality. With the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the state can continue to establish its exemplary leadership on state-level climate solutions by making opportunities for an increased clean energy workforce, stated Joe Curtatone, President of Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) and organizer of the press conference. Other speakers and represented groups included the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Ceres, Browning the Green Space (BGS), GreenRoots, 350 Mass, Mass Renews Alliance, SparkCharge, and others. The full recording of the event can be accessed here.
Increasing Participation for Equitable Outcomes in Climate Decision-making
Climate policies are undeniably strengthened by the inputs of communities most likely to be impacted by such policies. Similarly, exclusion or lack of involvement of communities poised to suffer the detrimental impact of climate change and pollution unequivocally lead to ineffective policies. Communities of color and low-income communities often suffer the repercussions of flawed environmental policies. Hence, for communities to stay resilient in enduring the challenges of a changing climate, it is important to ensure that emerging policies are formed with inputs from the most impacted communities.
Flawed environmental and climate policy decision-making that excluded the voices of vulnerable communities dates back to the 80s. In 1982, residents of Warren County in North Carolina, engaged in a protest to fight against the dumping of 40,000 cubic yards of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) contaminated soil in their community. PCB chemicals were banned in the United States in 1979 because they harm human and environmental health but are persistent in air, water, and waste. That early demonstration against environmental racism and injustice was the first of many, exposing the injustice that persists when policies exclude the needs of the most vulnerable groups and communities. Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent climate assessment to reiterate the impact climate would have on communities (cities and settlements) situated by the sea or ocean. For these ‘frontline communities’, mitigating climate change impacts demand that their voices and lived experiences need to shape the resultant policies for their specific climate solutions.
Maine’s trailblazing effort to engage Vulnerable Communities to Climate Change
Acadia Center championed LD1682 in Maine with the understanding that state agencies should consider climate and equity in their mandates, starting with the Public Utility Commission (PUC). LD 1682 – An Act to Require Consideration of Climate Impacts by the Public Utilities Commission and To Incorporate Equity Considerations in Decision-making by State Agencies was considered one of the most far-reaching, impactful climate and equity bills in the 130th Legislature. Parties in PUC cases are already using the law as a basis for stronger PUC actions related to climate change. Environmental and climate justice can help empower Maine’s communities to be healthier and more resilient, and state agencies must support this work.
The passage of LD1682 became the groundwork for the passage of LD2018 – Act to Implement Recommendations Regarding the Incorporation of Equity Considerations in Regulatory Decision Making. With the implementation of this bill, access to proceedings and the decision-making process would be made possible for environmental justice communities, frontline communities, lower-income communities, and communities of color. More importantly, this bill creates opportunities for supposedly hard-to-reach communities to have access to proceedings that will determine their readiness for climate change. It puts environmental justice and climate action at the center of the state government’s work.
As agencies at all levels of government continue to make strides to undo climate change and ensure a smooth transition to clean energy, it is important to ensure that all communities partake in the policy and decision-making process. A key strategy for equitably tackling climate issues that communities face is continuously improving access to public forums that inform and educate. Including this crucial effort goes beyond providing a balanced perspective in climate policy. It allows communities to have a more productive outcome in effecting change by not reacting but informing the decision-making process.
For more information:
Joy Yakie, Environmental Justice Associate, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-742-0054 x110
Jeff Marks, Maine State Director, email@example.com, 207.236.6470 ext. 304