RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote on the Inflation Reduction Act

Are you weary of having to care about where headline-seeking Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema land on important topics? Well, according to this week’s guest on Sea Change Radio, relief may be in sight. This week we speak with grassroots organizer and Democratic insider RL Miller to dig deeper into the politics, logistics and the climate impact of the Inflation Reduction Act. The president and founder of Climate Hawks Vote, Miller believes Manchin is starting to see his star fade as he watches more progressive Democratic Senate hopefuls making inroads – she believes this is a key impetus for his and Sinema’s connection to this bill, and perhaps a sign of things to come. We also get a harrowing glimpse into Miller’s first-hand experience with the California wildfires.

00:01 Narrator – This is Sea Change Radio, covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

00:16 RL Miller – We are 100 days out from a midterm election on N8 and we are in pretty good shape to hold the Senate and adds to the Senate Majority. And if we elect Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman and Cheri Beasley and a couple of other people, Joe Manchin loses his role as kingmaker of the United States Senate.

00:40 Narrator – Are you weary of having to care about where headline-seeking Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema land on important topics? Well, according to this week’s guest on Sea Change Radio, relief may be in sight. This week we speak with grassroots organizer and Democratic insider RL Miller to dig deeper into the politics, logistics and the climate impact of the Inflation Reduction Act. The president and founder of Climate Hawks Vote, Miller believes Manchin is starting to see his star fade as he watches more progressive Democratic Senate hopefuls making inroads – she believes this is a key impetus for his and Sinema’s connection to this bill, and perhaps a sign of things to come. We also get a harrowing glimpse into Miller’s first-hand experience with the California wildfires.

01:39 Alex Wise – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by RL Miller. She is the founder and president of Climate Hawks vote and she is an elected member of the DNC and she served as the Chair Person of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus for eight years. RL, welcome to Sea Change Radio.

02:00 RL Miller – Thanks so much for having me on.

02:02 Alex Wise – Well, it’s a pleasure and very timely because follow you on Twitter. You’re a very keen observer and we are in the midst of seeing some legislation (fingers crossed) pass this week through the Senate. It was called the Build Back Better bill. That’s a mouthful. And now the new mouthful is the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. But before we dive into that, I want to learn a little bit more about the mission of Climate Hawks Vote and how your organization has tried to tackle the connection between fossil fuels and the political class.

02:42 RL Miller – I founded Climate Hawks vote in 2014 because I was deeply frustrated with Democratic politicians and Republican politicians. Republican politicians being in total denial of course. “Oh no, there’s no such thing as climate change.” While Democratic politicians would pay lip service to it. Say that yes, of course it’s very important. Oh, we need to do something by 2050. OK, we’ll do something somewhere down the road and they would just keep on kicking the can down the road. Meanwhile, immigration demands attention. Right now, healthcare demands attention. Right now, gun violence right now, et cetera, et cetera. And so so many other priorities competing for democratic politicians attention. Nobody was doing anything about climate change now, and so I founded Climate Hawks vote with the idea of getting politicians to pay attention to the climate crisis. And by building a community of climate voters, people. Who would vote climate and nothing else. Much as the NRA is known for having a single minded constituency of 4 million people, I wanted to build a community of Climate Hawks and we have largely succeeded in getting climate to the forefront of the national agenda. So, as I say in 2014. It was difficult to get people to list it as a top priority by the time Joe Biden is sworn in. In 2020 he lists climate as one of his top four priorities, so in that way we’ve succeeded. In many ways, the drum beat of cries for help. And demands for action has only grown louder. I don’t know if you know this, but I ended up. As a wolf, as a wildfire survivor.

04:35 Alex Wise – No, I didn’t know that – which fire?

04:37 RL Miller – In 2018, the Woolsey Fire. It was two days after the Big Blue wave election and most of my friends were celebrating or still hungover or already on the beach somewhere. Taking a break. I was talking to a candidate in a Georgia runoff and I noticed black clouds over my home and I said “Oh boy, that’s bad” because it was one of those very hot windy November days that we occasionally get in Southern California and I glued myself to Twitter to figure out what was going on. And I told my mother that she might need to be evacuated. She was at that point 94 years old needed a Walker to get around. She takes a lot of pills. In other words, the kind of person who would just be an absolute nightmare to evacuate at three in the morning. And when I saw on Twitter that these fire will hit my community in two hours, I said I’m not waiting 2 hours, mom, we’re out of here now. So I packed the dog and my mom in my car and I drove to my boyfriend’s house and I watched my son childhood memories burn down. Sorry if I get emotional here, but I just can’t help it. I watched my son’s childhood memories burned down on national television, their soccer fields, their preschool, the places where we played in the park. It was all gone. We had flames within 500 feet of my home. And the second most terrifying thing in your life is watching flames within 500 feet of your home on national television, the more terrifying thing, I guess would be staying there as it actually happened, but because of my mom, I evacuated quickly. And yeah, I ended up with some sort of post traumatic stress disorder over it and I didn’t realize just how bad and how prevalent the wildfires have gotten until a couple of weeks later. I was at a Cal Dem party convention and trying to organize through my own pain and I asked you know who here is from Paradise? The Woolsey Fire was the exact same day as that town in Northern California. Paradise burned off the map and nobody raises their hand because nobody is from paradise and I said stand up if you’ve been directly affected by any of the wildfires that have hit us in the last few months and I named last few years and I named them all the Mendicino Lake complex fire, the Wine Country fires, the Bobcat Fire, the Cedar, the fires down in San Diego, the Thomas and the Woolsey fires in Ventura County and a third of the room stands. And I ask people raise your hand, if you know somebody who’s been directly affected and everybody does everybody in California knows somebody who’s been directly affected by the wildfires. That’s just how prevalent they’ve gotten here.

07:40 Alex Wise – Yes, it’s definitely affected everybody in the state and there’s not a lot of inches on the globe where people aren’t affected, or animals and plants aren’t affected, by what humans have wrought on this planet. So with that in mind, let’s turn to the latest policy that looks like it’s hopefully coming across Joe Biden desk to sign sooner than later. We could be premature because. Kyrsten Sinema has not given her blessing. We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for what she has to say. We know that Joe Manchin has signed off on this, but this IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s promising to kind of thread the needle where it’s satisfying the Joe Manchin’s of the world, but also better than nothing for the environmental movement. Why don’t you give us your first reactions of reading it after it came out late last week, RL?

08:38 RL Miller – Sure, and overall I want to say that this is a good bill. On balance it is not a perfect bill, but we are at a point where we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good and so overall I am going to advocate for its passage and still work as. Hard as I can and as hard as the climate hawk folk community can to smooth out some of the more troublesome passages. So overall, what this is going to do is reduce emissions in the United States up to 40% by 2030. Biden’s promise was to reduce those emissions 50% by 2030, and the sense is that if we can get this through this week because this is a very fast moving train that requires a lot of pieces to come into play and work perfectly for this to all happen this week. If it happens, then we can bridge the remaining 10% or so through executive actions and through state actions in forward-looking states like California, New York, Illinois et cetera, et cetera. So overall I am optimistic, despite the fact that the bill has too many things in it to make the Joe Manchin’s of the world happy, starting off with the title. “Yeah, sure Joe, you can call it the Inflation Reduction Act if that’s going to help you vote for it. Sure, Joe, you can call it. The Joe Manchin is king of the Senate if that’ll help you vote for it.”

10:22 Music Break

10:59 Alex Wise – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to the president and founder of Climate Hawks Vote,  RL Miller. So, RL, let’s turn back that front page at the title page and dig into some of the things that shout it out to you. If you can kind of walk us through some of the bullet points that would be terrific.

11:19 RL Miller – Sure, a lot of climate policy is tax. Well, see, I bought a Tesla a few years ago. I can barely afford it. One of the reasons I did was that I got a $7500 tax credit. Bill is going to tinker with it a little bit in that in order to get the tax credit, your car must have the rare earths supplied from conflict free places or not from China. It’s basically there’s a little bit of anti China stuff going on in it.

11:54 Alex Wise – And I noticed there was also no similar rebate for electric bikes, which is kind of a bummer.

12:00 RL Miller – Yeah, yeah, the bikes thing went away, but there’s a huge rebate for heavy duty electric vehicles so buses and trucks and things like that. And best of all, if you buy a used EV and I understand you can buy a fairly cheap used Volt or both. I always get Bolt and Volt confused.

12:22 Alex Wise – Well, because I think Chevy made both so…

12:24 RL Miller – Yeah, you would get a tax credit. Of $4000 on an on a car that’s selling for $20,000 as a used vehicle, that’s pretty sweet.

12:36 Alex Wise – From I’m a transportation standpoint, it’s got some positives. What about from how the bill is supposed to be cutting carbon emissions by 40% in eight years? Is that realistic? And where are those cutbacks going to come from?

12:51 RL Miller – A lot of it is going to come from ramping up solar and wind, so again tax credits. I bought a solar system, a rooftop solar system a few years ago because there was a tax credit of 30% that was going to expire in 2019 and then they were going to start ratcheting down the tax. Credit down to 28 percent 26%. The longer you wait, the less of a tax credit. And so I bought my system in 2019. This is a dream of the Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, who’s been pushing a bill that he would call the clean Energy for America Act, which Climate Hawks vote supported. And the idea is that instead of there being a separate tax credit for each of the different things that qualify as clean energy and so you have a production tax credit for solar. You have an investment tax credit for solar, you have a production tax credit for wind and an investment tax credit for wind and something else for geothermal and it just makes your head spin trying to keep track of it all. By 2027 we’re going to streamline all of this. And the amount of the tax credit you’re going to get is no longer going to be tide to a specific technology or associated with a particular provision in the tax code. It’s instead going to be streamlined so that the cleaner the energy, the more tax credit you’re going to get. And so it’s a simple measure of and it’s going to do horrible things to natural gas which has been touted as cleaner but not really clean, so their tax credits are just going to go away, I hope.

14:37 Alex Wise – And what were some of the goodies for Joe Manchin to feast on?

14:41 RL Miller – Well, the big one is that he’s going to get a vote on a pipeline permitting bill and the pipeline permitting bill is just breaking. Today, he’s released a one pager on it. We have not seen the text of the bill yet. But the idea is that would speed up permitting for both pipelines and for clean energy project. And it would require approval of his own favorite pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which runs through rural Appalachia where Joe Manchin. Obviously his home state is West Virginia.

15:19 Alex Wise – Well, everybody has their own favorite pipeline.

15:22 RL Miller – Yes, so it’s apparently just breaking today that Schumer and Pelosi are going to sign off on approving the Mountain Valley pipeline, to the great chagrin of many activists I know who have been fighting that thing. But I need to see what’s going to be in the bill, because if it also me. Cleaning up and fast tracking the permitting for wind and solar projects. Then it may end up being not quite so bad. Other than that one pipeline. The other thing he’s going to do that really has some of my friends in the environmental justice community up in arms is in order to have. Permits of large scale renewable energy on public land and by that I’m specifically using, for example, the large scale. Utility utility scale plants that you may see out in the California desert that are owned by Southern California Edison or owned by somebody selling a lot of electricity to Southern California Edison. So if you’re going to be doing those on public lands, says this bill, you have to 1st offer for sale. Some oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic. So this is bad news. And some of my friends are calling this a poison pill now. The only thing I could say about it is that under the terms of the bill, the oil and gas leases they have to be offered for sale. In other words, we can put it on the table for sale. But we don’t have to have a buyer, and so if the oil companies end up concluding that they’re not really interested in buying this particular lease in the Gulf of Mexico, then Biden and Manchin and the alphabet soup of federal bureaucracy have complied with the terms of the bill, and we can move forward with the renewable energy projects on public land. Like I say, it’s a bit of a poison pill, but they are placing the poison pill on the counter. They’re not necessarily shoving it down our throats.

17:35 Alex Wise – And I saw that Jesse Jenkins, who’s now a Princeton professor. But I I’ve had him on Sea Change Radio. Well before he became an Ivy League scholar, but he he said he was incredibly optimistic from reading through the bill. So that made me feel a little more placated, but I wanted to turn to some of the political lessons that we can learn from this whole process, and that’s something that you’re a keen observer of. Well, I read a piece by Bill Scher in the Washington Monthly called Lessons from Joe Manchin’s March to Victory and he kind of goes through a few of them. I can read some of them to you, but what were some of the political lessons that Democrats may have learned from watching this process unfold?

18:24 RL Miller – The first and the most important is simple. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. I honestly believe that activism played a big part, so you remember a couple of weeks ago when it was leaked that there would not be a build back better that Manchin was walking away. We think that leak came from the Schumer side. Of things and we all just wanted to slit our throats in despair. But rather than split ones thrown in despair, I came up with a plan of what I call Manchin’s Bluff. And that plan was to get Biden to declare a climate emergency, get all the bad fossil fuel projects disapproved by Biden, there was a great deal of speculation that Biden was dragging out Mountain Valley pipeline, in particular because he wanted to not close that door. As long as he was as long as negotiations were mentioned were ongoing and the third part of it is and always is my mission is to elect more Climate Hawks. The next cycle we are right now, three months out from we’re 100 days out from the midterm election on N8 and we are in pretty good shape to hold the Senate and adds to the Senate Majority. And if we elect Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman and Cheri Beasley and a couple of other people, Joe Manchin loses his role as kingmaker of the United States Senate. And with 52 or 53 senators we make Manchin meaningless and so the way to call his bluff I felt was to elect more people and then you know it was pretty obvious from the news that Biden was on the cusp of declaring a climate emergency. And that is because of the activists who fought for it, and if Biden had declared a climate emergency, I think. It would have been a Plan B where mansion negotiations failed but it could have been possibly better for the climate than Build Back Better, we’ll never know. We will never know.

20:54 (Music Break)

21:31 Alex Wise –  This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to RL Miller. She is the founder and president of Climate Hawks Vote. So RL, you were talking about how Joe Manchin was perhaps put on defense from the progress that Democrats have made over the last several months in and how the prospect of holding the Senate and maybe expanding on that majority is looking a little more rosy. Thus, kind of taking a lot of the leverage away from Joe Manchin, so this was maybe his last chance to like stick his name on a bill and say see I noticed he’s referred to it as my bill. There’s a lot of ego tide to this, but I think also some of the blowback that he felt when you were talking about a couple weeks ago when we all were ready to slit our throats because he said he was ready to he’s comfortable with zero. We were talking, you know about it, a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, and then he’s saying, you know, zero is better to me, so he seemed like he was calling our bluff. But then all the articles came out saying this man is single handedly ruining the planet. No one wants that to necessarily be their legacy, but maybe walk us through this next step and and how? Reconciliation will work and the misperception that a lot of people have that reconciliation is like cheating. That it’s some kind of a shortcut.

22:54 RL Miller – And let me be real clear on this. There are about 10 people in the Senate on the Senate staffers side who know exactly how the reconciliation process works. I’m not one of them. They’re going to be fighting this week on whether this provision and that provision in the bill meets. The fairly strict guidelines for budget reconciliation, it all has to do with numbers for a bill to be to count as budget reconciliation number one, it has to have something to do with the numbers and something to do with how can Congress spends money and #2, it can only play out for a maximum of 10 years, and so that’s why everything that you see in the bill is going to sunset at the end of 10 years.

23:41 Alex Wise – And it can’t be filibustered.

23:43 RL Miller – Right, and that’s the important part, it cannot be filibustered. So the first thing that’s going to happen is they’re meeting with the Senate parliamentarian to do what’s called a birdbath, and that’s spelled Byrd in honor of a former senator by the name of Robert Byrd, who was apparently. An expert on budget reconciliation. So the bill has to go through a bird bath.

24:08 Alex Wise – Yet another West Virginia senator.

24:10 RL Miller – Yeah, and they’re going to be fighting that one out in real time. Second thing that needs to happen is that we have to have 50 senators who are healthy. That means no more COVID outbreak.

24:22 Alex Wise – Yeah, I saw that John Cornyn actually just tested positive and so they were saying maybe is there a chance that maybe Kyrsten Sinema vote is not necessary, but I think that’s probably speculation. You did. I’m sure Mitch McConnell will get him out there in a hazmat suit if if he has to.

24:37 RL Miller – Exactly and we need to have Kamala Harris flying in from wherever she’s going to be flying in from, but she’ll do it and we have to have all of this done by Friday.

24:48 Alex Wise – Why is that?

24:49 RL Miller – Because the Senate is going to go on recess on August 8th.

24:53 Alex Wise – But why couldn’t they do it when they get back from vacation?

24:56 RL Miller – Honestly, the way this bill has moved for a year, I don’t trust that there are two other time constraints beyond the senators’ vacations. The first is that for it to affect budget reconciliation this year, it has to be passed by September 30th. The second one, though, is political. The Democrats are desperate for a win. They are desperate for something that they can take back to their home districts in August for that August recess that I was just mentioning and say hey look what we did last week and campaign on it. Because August is traditionally the time that you go back to your home district. And you do the meet and greets and you March in the Labor Day parade and you show up at all the barbecues and the Democratic clubs and you tout your victories. They need to campaign on this badly because otherwise people are looking at the Biden presidency and saying over promised, under delivered. And why is that? And they don’t want to hear that they want to hear happy constituents saying my life is going to get made better because the inflation Reduction Act passed. And by the way that Bill has some really great stuff in it. Not on climate, but it’s going to smooth out some wrinkles in Obamacare. And it’s going to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and these are things. These are kitchen table issues that Democrats want to campaign on, and so that’s why I am sure that the momentum behind this bill it’s been referred to Senate staffers have told me. That this is a speeding freight train. It’s going to pass by Friday.

26:43 Alex Wise – So is there anything role in this bill that would be a signal to our international allies as we approach COP 27 in the fall? For example, are there any strings for keeping for keeping the United? It’s strictly within the Paris Agreement.

27:03 RL Miller – So the simple fact that the bill passes is the signal that Biden would be taking with him to Egypt or his negotiators would be taking. The analysis over the last year or so has been that without this bill we cannot meet the United States cannot meet our Paris Agreement pledges. This bill gives us a shot at meeting those pledges and that’s why, again, they are anxious for the win, not just to campaign on in their home districts, but also to take to the rest of the world and say, “look the United States, we finally got our act together. We’ve cleaned up our room. We’re serious. You guys have to be serious too,” and there’s plenty of actors on the international stage that one can question their seriousness. Let’s just leave it at that.

28:02 Alex Wise – RL Miller. Thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

28:05 RL Miller – Oh, thank you so much, this was great.

28:21 Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Jimmy Smith. The National and Don Nix. Check out our website at seachangeradio.com to stream or download the show, or subscribe to our podcast. Visit our archives there to hear from Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Paul Hawken and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.