The Inflation Reduction Act will have important consequences for the greatest threat to the future of Hampton Roads: sea level rise.
One part of the sea level rise threat in Hampton Roads has been Virginia state policy, as the incoming Youngkin administration has tried to end Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This effort has so far failed, but has been very controversial in our region because hundreds of millions of dollars that RGGI provides for flood preparedness and coastal resilience efforts in Virginia would be eliminated if Virginia pulls out of the program. The price tag for building coastal resilience in Hampton Roads is several billion dollars, so the elimination of any revenue stream for that objective is threatening to Hampton Roads residents concerned about flood risk. But the federal Inflation Reduction Act addresses the sea level issue from a different angle, and on a much larger scale.
The Inflation Reduction Act will provide some coastal resilience funding, but focuses on the carbon emissions that drive flooding. We must understand the chain of events. Increased emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and leaks from methane wells, result in the trapping of heat from the sun in our global atmosphere. This heat especially pervades the polar regions, resulting in melting of ice sheets on top of Greenland and Antarctica. The water then pours down into the sea, making the global ocean deeper. NOAA projects that current rates of carbon emissions will result in as much as 3-7 more feet of water at the Norfolk waterfront by the year 2100. That is simply too much water to keep out of buildings with infrastructure improvements alone, and for that reason reducing carbon emissions is vital.
Economists calculate that the bill that just passed the Senate and House will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by up to 40% from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Part of this reduction will be achieved by charging methane drilling companies for the amount of methane that leaks from their wells, because methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. The biggest part of the emission reductions will come from the tax credit features which encourage utilities to replace fossil fuel plants with electricity generation from renewable energy. Another small part will come from accelerating the growth of electric vehicles.
It has been a long wait for this bill. In the next couple of decades, the other 60% of U.S. carbon emissions need to be phased out as well. How can we get that to happen? More federal legislation. How can we get other nations to follow our lead? We must use trade tariffs to punish other nations that refuse to reduce their own carbon emissions. These tariffs are called “carbon border adjustments” and we will hear more about them later as Congress awakens to the need to force other nations to move from talk to action on climate.
The Inflation Reduction Act is an indispensable section of the path to sea level rise survival for Hampton Roads. It is important for constituents of U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria, Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin, and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to contact those legislators to thank them for their support for the bill.
Looking ahead, citizens of Hampton Roads must support more resilience efforts and emission reduction efforts on the local, state, national and international levels. The futures of our grandchildren depend on this. Rather than a time for relaxation and celebration, we enter an era already filled with visible consequences of climate change, but informed by the knowledge that collective solutions are achievable. We waited 30 years for this first step. We must not wait even three years for the next step.
Pat Jacobson, of Suffolk, volunteers with several environmental groups including Citizens Climate Lobby. Chris Wiegard, a Richmond-area resident, volunteers for Citizens Climate Lobby.